Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland (2021) is making headlines across the nation after its release last week on Feb. 19. Nomadland is centered around a character named Fern, played by Frances McDormand. Fern is a middle aged woman who lives as a modern day nomad, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a member of a people who have no fixed residence but move from place to place usually seasonally and within a well-defined territory.” Zhao’s work is currently streaming on Hulu and is available in a limited range of theaters.
Set in the United States, the film follows Fern’s travels through Nevada, Arizona, South Dakota and more. Her white van becomes the key symbol of her life on the road, serving as her place of rest and mode of transportation. The film is not just about her travels, but also about the people she meets on the way — connection is central to the plot. Characters come and go, accentuating Fern’s life on her own.
Nomadland’s setting makes for a significant part of the mise-en-scéne. From the astonishing sunsets in the Badlands to the Arizona desert, Fern’s appreciation of and relationship with nature is made apparent. Nature is contrasted with her different work environments, which are ever-changing. Although her work is constantly differing from location to location, the one constant throughout the film is the beauty of the places she lives.
McDormand has been widely applauded for her role as Fern. She has had many critically acclaimed roles, such…