Chloé Zhao’s independent drama film “Nomadland” released on Feb. 19 and received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from critics and the public alike. This comes as no surprise given our world’s current Zoom landscape. After a year of being trapped within our homes, people across the globe are buying vans and buses, fully renovating the interiors, and escaping the normalized conception of home. Blazing one’s own trail with life on the road has never been so popular. This, alongside the massive anxiety surrounding loneliness due to quarantine, relates directly to Zhao’s extreme success in connecting with audiences through the many joys and tensions of being in isolation. How many of us are comfortable being totally alone?
This initial success followed Zhao and her film all the way to the 93rd Academy Awards that were held on Apr. 25. Not only did Zhao walk away with Best Director, but “Nomadland” also received Best Picture along with its main star, Frances McDormand, receiving Best Lead Actress. While some may argue with these results, I believe these awards were all very well deserved. The film follows the story of sixty-year-old Fern (Frances McDormand) as she struggles to adjust herself to a nomadic, van-dwelling lifestyle following the Great Recession. Widowed, poverty-stricken and homeless, Fern has to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. No matter the struggle we face each day in our lives, this theme of making a home from horrifying, isolated discomfort is one we can all connect to, coming out of this pandemic. The film, in its themes and emotional evocations, is extremely universal. You definitely don’t have to live in a van to empathize and relate with Fern or any of the amazing strangers she meets along the way.
Chloé Zhao, a Chinese filmmaker, screenwriter, and producer, is known for her feature films “Songs My Brother Taught Me” (2015) and “The Rider” (2017). She is also slated to direct Marvel’s upcoming and highly anticipated film “The Eternals” as they continue to push forward into their Phase Four cinematic plans. However, her big claim to fame has certainly been “Nomadland,” as she became just the second woman ever to win the Academy Award for Best Director. Even more inspiring (and disappointing on the Academy’s part), she is now the first woman of color to ever win this award in the 93 years of Oscar history! Despite this extreme success and the essential step towards dismantling the whitewashed Oscars, her home country China is censoring her accomplishment and the Academy Awards as a whole.
Frances McDormand, on the other hand, is not new to winning Oscars. In the past, she received the Academy Award for Best Actress in both 1996 (“Fargo”) and 2017 (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), along with countless other nominations between those years. This certainly does not take away from her most recent accomplishments as she left this award ceremony with two Academy Awards, one for Best Actress and one for Best Picture (as she also served as a producer for the film). On top of now having received four Oscars, McDormand also became the first person ever to receive an Academy Award as both a producer and performer for the same film. Additionally, she is now the second woman ever to win Best Actress three times, joining 1930’s star Katharine Hepburn. McDormand’s Oscar-winning performance within Zhao’s film is truly captivating, as she brings the struggles of isolation to life.
Overall, Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” is absolutely one of the best films to come out of this year and the 2020-21 hybrid award season. Having won three well-deserved awards, we can only hope that both Zhao and McDormand continue to give us cinematic and theatrical masterpieces, the kind of art that forces us to feel our anxieties and question our normalized conceptions of culture.
“Nomadland” is available to stream on Hulu.
By Erik Mathews