Being ‘homeless’ and ‘houseless’ are not the same thing.
Fern, played by Frances McDormand in Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, is consistently stoic when she is asked if she needs a place to crash by multiple people on multiple occasions. After the death of her husband, Fern packed up her stuff, mostly souvenirs from a life she’s lived for far too long, and hit the road in her RV. She is a nomad by choice, but not one without burden. Fern is seen struggling to make ends meet at an Amazon warehouse among other seasonal workplaces, wearing her grief on her sleeve in unfriendly terrains. Progressively, she meets others like her on the road, and her character, as well as the terrain, opens up.
Nomadland, which has bagged several nominations and awards over the past year with its quiet but magnanimous visuals, is the story of a community, fuzzy and sidelined, making their way through life; a group of modern-day nomads, who always depart without final goodbyes. The movie is a strong resistance to the idea of a singular ‘home’, or rather opens it up in ways that break down notions of family and community.
In fact, Chloé Zhao’s Oscar-nominated masterpiece is pertinent to discussions about present-day migration around the world, especially amongst women in India. Leaving home for work to another city is often an escape from familial roles and duties for many women, who find solace in jumping jobs, moving from one city to another, carrying their home with them in rented houses, and gleefully bumping into Linda Mays – Fern’s closest friend in the movie – along the way.
Fern admits to staying in the industrial town of Empire, Nevada, with her husband for many years, only because he loved his job. Like many women, Fern was comfortably stuck in a marriage, until loss and the need to make a living pushed her to keep moving. Her finding a home in an RV is a step towards accepting a life without conventional ties and a conventional home rooted in societal norms.
But Nomadland isn’t just about breaking away from society for ‘true freedom’. It is, simultaneously, society failing a group of people, whose disillusionment of the American dream forces them to take to an itinerant life. In India too, migration can’t be separated from gender, class or caste, as the marginalised continue to rummage through the urban dream for financial independence, security and stability, only to be displaced over and over again.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.