Frances McDormand has always captivated me. From the first time I watched her in Fargo to the latest release of Nomadland, there is a connecting quality. One doesn’t have to look too deep to uncover that Frances is adopted. I am not adopted and I can never really understand how one might be but maybe my current questioning of identity and affiliation comes close? There’s an innate feeling of rejection, anger, injustice, questions around belonging. And life is spent filling these gaps and holes trying to make sense of one’s place and worth, in my case, being mixed race in a country that’s still entrapped in binary colonial worldviews. Before moving to my current residence, my people were the target of government policy that wanted us gone- our existence, our rights, our identity, and our sense of place. And that’s why a critic’s review of Frances’ recent film is so incredibly relatable to me ‘hardscrabble lives in a society that has little room for them.’ There can be no more common ground than having first hand experience of that quote regardless of one’s ethnicity and background. It’s a unifying language the film subtly and gently portrays.
On the surface the film shows a segment of American society discarded by capitalism. In our ‘throwaway’ consumerism , these people or traded commodities are thrown away no longer needed and no longer remunerated. The lack of the latter forcing hard decisions for a hard end of life. The world cares little for them because they aren’t professionals running a well oiled capitalist machine. Their worth and value defined by their ‘lack of’- education, profession, connection, money. What strikes me as particularly poignant is that anyone at any time of their life can fall off the edge and join these vagabonds, that ‘lack of’ can happen completely out of one’s control; we can seriously find ourselves homeless.
A balanced voice may suggest that people can choose the life they ultimately have. That choice comes into play such as a battered wife in a loveless marriage chooses to stay because financially she’s better off. Or a husband chooses to continue in an affair because it makes the loveless marriage so much more bearable than to divorce and go through messy child custody issues and financial wrangling with a bitch who doesn’t deserve a penny. Some come out of it all the better. Many others though live with regret, pain and emotional scarring taking years to heal. Others have an amazing talent for self deception.
Normadland did come out a year after my mother passed away. My travelling caravan of life, lonely, empty, the constant outsider, the itinerant resident became more so when someone permanent to me was no longer. Despite the complex feelings I had toward my mother she was still around to listen when at times I was in my own echo chamber, deplete of anyone who could understand. She got my context without explanation and perhaps shielded her fears in some hope I wouldn’t take them on, that my life would be better than hers. In many ways it is but the tragedy of her death, her joyless, unhappy marriage and suffrage have left me questioning many things in life.
This is where a nomadic lifestyle, I believe, allows you to let go. The beauty of coming to terms with one’s lot in life is the freedom of letting go and being as authentic as you can be. When there’s no one else around, how long can you keep lying to yourself? When those around have little tolerance for pretence as is the case in a Nomadic life, the road travelled could get even lonelier and I wonder is this the lesson so many need? Does it matter about your profession, the money you made, the connections you had , the lifestyle you led when you close your eyes for the last time and don’t like who you’ve become? A nomadic life must be a catalyst to that point and yet so many won’t have the happenstance to experience it and many actively choose to avoid it, a much needed life lesson.
Fargo, Three Billboards, Olive Kitteridge, and many of France’s acting roles bring me back to the intersection of tragedy and authenticity, of truth and pretence, of all life’s contradictions and how we can choose our authentic self to the end with all the pain and delights on the way. The journey of a forced nomadic life may bring this to the fore for many, travelling with ourselves and facing our weaknesses and strengths daily and our place in ourselves and the world. Nomadland may be a story of movement and itinerant residence but to me it’s a metaphor of my life epitomised by the genuine and unapologetic Frances McDormand.