Minari and Nomadland are two movies currently earning all kinds of praise and pre-award season accolades that triggered in me diametrically opposing feelings. I hated Nomadland (only lasted 20 minutes before shutting it off), and I loved Minari (sat there staring into the closing credits just thinking about it all.)
The movies share a similar theme: economic ruthlessness and the human condition. Here’s how they handle it:
Nomadland, shot in cold grey and blue and focusing super heavy on Frances McDormand’s perennially disquieted facial expressions pleads for sympathy toward, and the endorsement of those who’ve adopted transient vehicle-based lifestyles to get by in the wake of the recession.
Minari, on the other hand, celebrates the reality of a full colour, four season weather cycle and rejects the idea that outward forces commandeer inward decisions.
Nomadland is a documentary/narrative hybrid that forces audiences to believe an either/or scenario. Either capitalistic mechanisms make you millions or they force you to live in your van and meet up with strangers to kvetch, do dumb things with found objects, and pray.
Rooted in the good ol’ American adage that says you’re only as good as the things you own, Nomadland sets the viewer up to accept a certain socio-economic context and then sympathize with those done in by it.
Then we have Minari. This is a film where all the characters are actors, meaning: there isn’t one particular Frances McDormand celebrity portraying the sad and even sometimes pathetic, real-life people surrounding her as she carries out her role.
Minari is a movie about Korean immigrants who underestimate western life but are relentlessly determined to sway unfavourable conditions toward potentially positive outcomes with hard work, a positive outlook and belief in themselves.
The family lives in a motor home on several acres of landlocked property with little access to infrastructure or utilites. Their youngest child has a life-threatening heart condition and the grandma who comes to live with them ends up bringing with her equal amounts of heart wrenching harm and heartrending good.
Minari is the flip side of Nomadland for this reason:
One movie examines those who’ve lost almost everything and have succumbed to a weirdly accepting but not really accepting life of struggle, while the other examines those who’ve lost almost everything, teeter against the enormity of their challenges, learn how to deal, and redouble their efforts despite a million odds.
Maybe it’s because my grandfather, who immigrated from Poland to Edmonton, built not one but two family homes plank by plank, and went on to establish a community of Polish residents who worked together to help each other no matter the circumstances so everyone could thrive and enjoy a contented life, that I found Nomadland manipulative, tone deaf, sad and unwatchable.
When the chips are down – and don’t think our family hasn’t experienced that – when the chips are down a person can disappear into a life of bare existence while blaming the man, or a person can buckle down, figure it all out, and be a David against the Goliath.
I just don’t buy the romanticism in giving up.