This week, I find myself once again unable to justify recommending a book. While this could be due to both my overall diminishing creativity as the semester comes to a close and the fact that my mind is focused on finding a job in one of the worst economies in recent memory, I’m inclined to believe that a book recommendation just isn’t what everyone needs right now. The stress and overwhelming difficulty of this semester cannot be emphasized enough. I’ve told you to take a break before—now, perhaps more than ever, this sentiment is necessary.
Sure, finals are fast approaching, but that does not mean breaks should be cast aside in order to spend every waking moment studying, reading and drinking caffeinated beverages to keep up. Taking time for yourself and stepping away from the obligations of Bowdoin are actually quite important to your performance at the College—no matter what our ambitious minds may want to tell us. However, I am under no illusion that most students at Bowdoin have the time at this point in the semester to start or complete a novel and, to that end, I turn to the silver screen once more.
The Movie: “Nomadland”
There is a good chance you have heard of “Nomadland” this past week, whether directly or in passing. Even with the power the Bowdoin Bubble has over students, I expect that whenever a movie wins the Academy Award for Best Picture, news of it permeates this community. And although I have a strong distaste for accolades such as the Academy Awards (which are riddled with such problems as scandal, racism and sexism), this film deserves the recognition these awards give. “Nomadland” was written, edited, produced and directed by Chloé Zhao, a brilliant Chinese filmmaker who is known primarily for her work on independent films in the United States. At this year’s Oscars, Zhao won Best Director and Best Picture for “Nomadland.” In an age when the oppression of Asians in the United States is finally being recognized, Zhao’s recognition for her excellence and the mainstream representation she provides for Asians in the United States is long overdue.
“Nomadland,” which stars Frances McDormand (who won Best Actress at the Oscars for her performance), is based on the 2017 non-fiction book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” by Jessica Bruder. It follows a woman, Fern, who, after losing her husband and everything else in the Great Recession, transforms a van into her home and lives life on the road. This is not some tale of a twenty-something who has wealthy parents and chooses to be a van-dweller; rather, it is the story of a woman in her sixties whose world (including her entire town) is destroyed as a result of a factory closing down. This is a tale of the perils facing much of middle America.
Fern travels from her empty town to work at an Amazon fulfillment center, where she meets up with her friend Linda (played by the real-life Linda), who invites her into a support community for nomad van-dwellers. Through this community, Fern travels across vast expanses of the West. Beyond the acting, the cinematography of the film alone is outstanding enough to warrant watching it—for the rawness with which it portrays the nomads and also for the environmental depictions it shares with the viewer. Above all, though, this film shows Zhao’s excellence as a director who is able to present some of the most compelling twenty-first century American stories on the screen.
Why Bowdoin should watch it:
If the benefits of watching a beautiful, engaging and, at times, hilarious film is not enough to convince you to watch “Nomadland,” then take the time out of your busy schedule to watch this film because it is important. Bowdoin is an elite East Coast institution. It all too often forgets—or blatantly chooses to ignore—the perils and struggles of middle America. Zhao’s superb attention to this area of the United States deserves our time. Even if that is not enough, then watch this film because you deserve a break. This isn’t some trashy film that you will feel guilty for watching (although you shouldn’t feel guilty about breaks in the first place). This is a thoroughly enjoyable and important film for our times. And if you still have reservations about leaving your studying for the two hours it’ll take you to watch this movie, I’ll leave you with the same advice I’ve been giving for the past few weeks: take a f*cking break.