Memento Mori is a Latin catch phrase that means “remember that you will die” and using it was one way in which the Romans tried to remind themselves that they were mortal, that they should live focused on the present and aware of the transience and banality of everything. It is said that at the time of the coronation of the new emperor, he asked a slave to whisper in his ear, during the majestic ceremony, ‘memento mori’, remember that you are going to die; even if you are the Emperor, you are going to die.
The film Nomadland is a kind of memento-mori movie, I think.
Fern is a mature woman who, after becoming a widow and the closing of the factory in which she and her husband worked, embarks on a path of detachment that leads her to the depth of her existential desolation. On her path, nature and a community of broken-hearted people, just like her, help her to heal. Little by little she finds a way to communicate her sadness and loneliness.
The lifestyle of those who live in vans or caravans acquires an existential connotation comparable to people working in precarious jobs, people healing from addictions, people who have lost family members because of illness or migration. These changing life experiences put an end to a path of life and force us to go through something new and, in the process, to become new person, to change our life.
In order to make the change possible, the person must cross an empty space of liminality. The long sequences of Fern looking ecstatically and sadly at the desolate landscape or smoking a cigarette at dawn, communicate that place of liminality from which she narrates her own story of endless healing. One could also say that Nomadland is a film that deals with two verbs: to begin and to end.
Begin, because, like Fern, those who are on the road living as nomads had begun a path of search, healing and self-knowledge. They know that only self-knowledge can heal. Each one of them has begun their own path, and each one of them has their own way to walk through it. They cross paths and make friends with each other, but each follows their route hoping to see them again, “see you down the road”, they say.
End, because the characters of the story are trying to break free from a past that has them trapped. That trap and ignorance about how to escape from it make these characters tragic, friendly and familiar to us. That is what allows them to be in solidarity with each other. The seasons end and the nomads take to the road to continue with their search
Cycles do not end or begin; they simply follow a course. They are always the same and they are always different. Just like the last Spring was not the same as this one, however, they are both Springs. Same and different. In the same way, the spaces of liminality in the film unfold without leading to an ending, like a phrase we overheard as we walk down a busy street and, suddenly, someone whispers in our ear: Memento Mori. Full circle.
(c) Photography by Sebastián Silva. https://la-periferia-interior.tumblr.com/