Captain Fantastic, 2016.
Directed by Matt Ross.
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn.
In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.
Awash with superheroes, horror revamps, and formulaic rom-coms, the refreshing addition of an original movie to the box office line-up already earns itself some points, even if it’s not that great. Praise be to those that tick the originality and quality boxes, as Captain Fantastic does. This heartfelt indie flick is the kind of gem you recommend to friends, discuss over dinner, and buy yourself a copy of when it comes to the home entertainment release. Full of insightful commentary on contemporary society including health, politics, and education, the film yearns to be savoured. And oh what a lovely taste it leaves.
It observes parenting structures, and the relatively unbiased viewpoint it gives allows it to flourish thematically for two hours. The basic gist is Viggo Mortensen’s Ben raises his six children in the forest of north west America. They read, exercise and hunt regularly – “trained” in a more atavistic and loose style. They are incredibly smart and notably strong for their age. It looks like a paradise, but we soon see the issues the schooling has. For one, none of the children know how to behave in a normal fashion, and once their long-absent mother dies, they are part of a very uncommon familial unit, and slightly broken.
What follows from the death of Ben’s wife, and the kids’ mother, is an exploration of single parenting, frankness vs restraint, and the “greater good”. As it sounds, the film can be quite profound, and this is solely an indie film, made for the more mature audiences. It’s liberal attitudes will make the eyelids of many Guardian readers flutter, whilst pissing off many others. In the end, the attitudes of the director are left quite ambiguous, leaving the audience a chance to ponder. It’s been too long where a film gives space for thought, and too far off Oscar season, this is drama that should be getting the critical praise, even if it can’t get the awards.
The writing is wonderful, with a family you grow extremely close to in a matter of minutes. At the heart of it all is the ever-brilliant Viggo Mortensen. Ben is a complex character that has every fragment of thought etched into Mortensen’s expression. He’s taken a hold of this character unlike any since Aragon. He embodies Ben perfectly, and the film can’t be imagined without him. To go through each child actor would take time, but they too are three-dimensional, living, breathing off the page. Notably, George MacKay introduces himself to Hollywood with finesse as Bo, the eldest and therefore most schooled member of the offspring. His weird, yet noble persona gives the film its humanity when the quirkiness becomes too much. The film’s plot evolves very naturally thanks, in part, to the realistic characters and the superb casting.
Tonally, Captain Fantastic knows exactly what it is and who it is for. Free-thinkers, cinephiles, book-worms, and yoga advocates will adore the film, whilst the conservative, Antiques Roadshow viewers can laugh at the hippies and still find joy in it. There’s a cut-off point for audiences, and it’s doubtful to receive attention from anyone under 25, but that’s where it’s longevity comes in as a cult favourite.
With an ensemble that really couldn’t be better if they tried, and a story that will stay with you long after, the film is a definite must-see. As we move towards a society where kids don’t play outside as much, stick themselves to screens, and learn by strict systems, the educational points made by the film are they to be taken into account. Not everything should be followed, and the film makes a point to present the pros and cons, but Captain Fantastic is brave and entertaining in its own lecture.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★