MOVIE REVIEW: CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
Written & directed by Matt Ross
Starring Viggo Mortenson, George MacKay, Samantha Isler
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
8 ½ /10
In a dense forest a young man – little more than a teen – leaps from the undergrowth to slit a deer’s throat with a hunting knife, before a ragtag brigade of kids emerge from the surrounding bushes, covered in mud like an undiscovered tribe of wildlings.
This tribe is presided over by Ben (Viggo Mortenson, fantastic in a difficult and complex emotional role: fatherhood is hard enough without having to portray your life values in conflict amid mortal grief, and he is brilliantly supported by all the children), father of six, protector, teacher, trainer and provider, living way off the grid with, until recently, wife & mother Leslie (Trin Miller), and the non-comformist couple have raised as intellectual, musical, loving and caring a family as you’ll ever see.
Theirs is a way of life which has been forgotten by most in our society, and writer/director Matt Ross sets up the story simply and effectively, showing a man dealing as best he can with his wife’s mental illness, and raising his kids idealistically but well.
I’ll try to avoid spoilers here, but tragic events take the whole family/tribe on a road trip aboard an old school bus and into a complete culture clash, when Ben’s no compromises/there’s no cavalry coming to save you mentality collides with the over-privileged and ultra-petty modern world, where the idea of tribes means something very different indeed.
Music plays a key part in the film, telling little stories in itself: a wailing bagpipe cassette played in the bus as they wind through virgin forest turns into a Celtic punk rock anthem as the bus hits the freeway, a fireside family jam sees the angsty teen test boundaries by pushing the music into areas Ben is initially uncomfortable with, and a stunning, tear-inducing acoustic family rendition of Sweet Child Of Mine is the best and most meaningful the song has ever sounded.
Unflaggingly touching, heart-warming, meaningful and often beautiful, Captain Fantastic is surprisingly hilarious, as well as an exciting expose of much of what is wrong with our so-called civilisation. There’s a lot more happening I won’t mention because, well, spoilers, but by the time Ben has his own revelatory epiphany in the final act, Mortenson’s performance is a tearful tour de force.
There is the understanding throughout the film that an upbringing such as Ben & Leslie give their kids is flawed: without the balance that interaction with other children and families provide, their psyches and personalities are obviously not complete – not everything can be taught through a book. But the modern society we take for granted is shown to be in many ways worse: some kind of balance between the two would be better for all, Captain Fantastic seems to be saying.
Whilst it is hard to believe that a family could remain so under the radar nowadays, but as a parable showing the best and worst of both worlds, it also leaves us wondering – how did we get so far from such pure ideals?
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