I’ve watched American Honey and Nomadland over the past few weeks, both for the first time, and what a happy coincidence that I watched the two in the vicinity of one another. I wanted to see American Honey in theaters when it first came out, but it had a short run at my local movie theater and I missed it. So I finally made a point to stream it at home. After all the accolades that Nomadland received at the Golden Globe awards this year, I was curious to watch it, even though it didn’t really spark my interest previously.
I loved American Honey for its dreamy, whimsical, and intimate glimpse of a facet of life that, while all too real for those living it, is not as familiar to many people. I kept trying to put myself in Star’s shoes, the main character who is so closely followed by the camera throughout the movie. The intimate camera work and focus on the main character reminded me of Blue Is the Warmest Color, another movie which I love so much and is one of my favorites. As I was trying to put myself in Star’s shoes and imagine how desperate she must have felt with her circumstances to go on this cross-country adventure with strangers, I was reminded of how vastly different peoples’ circumstances and experiences, which are beyond one’s control, can be. I admired her bravery and her resolve, even her recklessness, which always somehow ended up in her favor. I loved the music and the lighting that created the dream-like aura throughout the movie, despite its sad, melancholic undertones. Each character so interesting in their own right, making up the troupe of nomads in search of any glimmer of triumph and jubilation – any reason to celebrate as a means to escape their daily grind to get by. Yet they find that their camaraderie and continued pursuit of adventure is perhaps enough to carry on.
What I loved about watching Nomadland soon after American Honey, was the similar attention to landscape and the characters’ surroundings in both, and seeing the nomadic lifestyle from different perspectives due to the difference in age of the nomads. In American Honey, they’re constantly chasing that elusive euphoric feeling fueled by drugs and alcohol. In Nomadland, they’re chasing exploration of land, exploration of self, and bonding with others who harbor the same nomadic lifestyle. The landscape in Nomadland, a central character in itself, is breathtaking, and Frances McDormand’s performance is so simple in some ways, but speaks volumes in its simplicity.
Both movies are about solitude, as a natural facet of our human condition, but also about the strides we make to connect with others. Both are about our relationship with nature and our surroundings, even if that place is not fixed and is always changing as we’re propelled toward novelty and transformation. Both mostly star real people as opposed to actors, which is striking for their performance that isn’t really much of a performance at all.