The title of this, “What’s remembered, lives,” is a quote attributed to the father of Frances McDormand’s character, Fern. It’s a pithy encapsulation of a truth many of us remember when we lose someone close. Fern finds herself trapped in a self-fulfilling cocoon of memory.
I tried “Nomadland” without knowing much about it. I heard buzz about it before. Frances McDormand seems to bring depth to everything. Though she’s not a classic beauty, she’s aged beautifully. Despite being sixty-four, she appears nude in this movie and does not shirk from any realistic depiction of her character. Some moments will shock you, but none of them are gratuitous.
Frances McDormand’s character is experiencing the hollow of life after her husband died. The town they lived in died due to economics. She travels in a van as a nomad. Each place she visits greets her with fascinating and complicated people, many of whom are portrayed by ‘real’ people from the nomad movement.
It was one continuous, unutterable emotion rendered as a movie.
I might compare it to a dream, one punctuated by hyperrealistic moments that don’t let you flinch away from them. The scenery is beautiful, as is the simple music by Ludovico Einaudi. (Who I discovered accidentally a couple of years ago.) There is an odd assortment of live music in the movie, and all of it is performed with creative intimacy – by people you would love to get to know.
The movie paces with an intentional speed that might confuse some people. This movie is a bit of poetry and prose set in motion. It might well be a creative second cousin to Pat Conroy’s writing.
If I had to compare this movie to something, I might say it’s a photograph of the love of your life found after a violent storm, half-hidden in debris. Or a woman’s beautiful singing voice rendered hoarse from exertion. The beauty is bare for you to see.
Like I always do, I found little pieces of myself in this movie, and in unexpected places.
As for the ending, after Fern experiences her catharsis, it is evident that Fern chooses herself and the nomad life over one filled with people and intimate love. She is a nomad once again.
She will see us all later, though.