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Nomadland - an adventure film in disguise

Updated: Jun 7

If media reviews are to be believed, Nomadland is a drama about financial collapse, community and learning to live with grief and loss. True, but it is also a very real film about survival through connecting with nature so have the press missed the point?


Film Review


As we handed our tickets over at the door to Screen 1 at the Riverside Studios down in Hammersmith last weekend, we were advised that we would soon "..be coming out in tears. They all do." And we did. But it was only after a recovery beer and a bag of crisps that we began to wonder if we'd actually just been blown away by a cleverly disguised adventure film which goes well beyond van-life and campfires.


The key ingredients of a documentary adventure film are typically: human spirit; landscape/nature connection; and mission accomplished. We would argue that Nomadland had all of these things but did not present them in such a way that the film would be categorised under A for Adventure. Instead it goes into D for Drama.


It is true that the film is dramatised but it is certainly not pure fiction. Not only is the film based on a non-fiction book, but many of the 'characters' in the film are real and use their real names. Much of the dialogue is unscripted and not ‘acted’ out in the conventional way or by professional actors. When Fern, played by Frances McDormand, presents her driving licence early on in the film, it appears to have the name McDormand upon it. These subtle moments where the film crosses into the realms of reality are a warning that Fern's fate could befall any of us.


Frances McDormand as Fern in Nomadland looking bedraggled and standing in front of a cold and rocky skyline as dusk falls
Frances McDormand as Fern in Nomadland

Shit really does happen. And when it does, the tough get going, the rubber hits the road, and so on.. and in Nomadland we get to see at very close and sometimes raw quarters how human beings survive tragedy. They survive it by getting close to people and getting close to nature. And sometimes by getting close to buckets…


We are on our second beer and the penny has dropped as we list the moments in which adventure played its part in the film. There she is naked in the cold river. There she is looking to the mountains and hollering down valleys. There she is in howling gales by the sea. There she is enjoying the stories of a kayaker. There she is skipping through alien rock formations and though giant redwoods. But in all cases - there SHE is - wonderfully magnetic and true and standing in front of whatever the world is doing beyond, but also what it is doing within.


McDormand's presence is so strong she somehow manages to hold the planet in a supporting role. It really is an incredible performance.


Nomadland is about the dance of life and death, what is important and what isn't, and how wild and natural experiences can heal and unravel destiny. In other words, you might say, it’s about adventure.


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