Nomadland ★★★★

Every era in American film produces a crop of Westerns that are earned by the soul of the country at that time. 

While stereotypically, the most cliched and staid of movie genres, Westerns have evolved to survive over the decades. Since “The Wild Bunch,” they have become something of a split-diopter image of America. One half; the iconography of our national mythology. The other; what we exist as, today. 

Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” is a significant milestone on the continuum of the Western’s lifespan.

Rather than taking on local bounties, Frances McDormand’s wandering hero slings packages at an Amazon warehouse. Instead of living off the back of an old horse, she has a rickety van. 

It’s only appropriate in the 21st century that Zhao - though interpreting this great American genre - was actually born in China. It perhaps allows her to be less bound by the dreaded ‘poverty porn’ clichés, and let the stories and people; self-mythologising though they may sometimes be, speak for themselves. 

And besides that, the very morals so valued in iconic cowboys of the Western film canon: self-sufficiency, ingenuity, discovery; are prized, if not necessary, in another group — immigrants. 

We are, as a country and a people, most sure when we are in motion. Across borders, cultures, county lines, or the liminal cracks between them all — this is the state of flux Zhao has captured in “Nomadland.”

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