Nomadland ★★★★½

This is as American as a film can get. And one of the ways it gets there is by being a Western. Open vistas, ad hoc communities, an aloof protagonist doing their best to do right by this metaphorical and literal frontier—all these familiar tropes are set against one important difference. Manifest destiny has been devoured.

Westerns are predicated on American imperialism, on the ill-defined belief their exceptionalism is oil for their expanding flame; this film shows though not a growing empire, but a dying one. All that oil with little air left. With nowhere left to expand, to feed away its hunger, society begins to self-cannibalise. And in this ouroboric process, it's Fern (McDormand) who finds herself at the tail, fleeing fangs she never thought would turn on her.

The film tracks the cruel beauty of her post-apocalypse, too busy surviving to address her traumas. Trapped socioeconomically, she chooses what the pioneers, cowboys and hippies before her chose—the frontier. Within the eternal landscape, life is given back its ephemerality.