It took me an hour and a half to get to the bus station in Cubao from Makati (It wasn’t raining), and four hours to get to Baguio on the 10:15 express bus (no stops, snacks, washroom on board). As soon as we left Metro Manila I could feel an invisible iron band loosening around my head. That’s what living in Metro Manila is like: an iron band around your head, growing tighter and tighter. You’re so used to it, you don’t even know it’s there. Metro Manila is killing us.
Fifi, who runs Mt. Cloud Bookshop, had invited me to give a talk. I discussed my writing method (lots of doing apparently nothing) and read an excerpt from my novel. Mt. Cloud carries books about the Philippines, books by Filipino authors, and a smattering of other titles. It’s a charming two-storey shop, the kind that has a portal to another dimension, in the refurbished Casa Vallejo near the Session Road rotunda. The shop is packed with books, so events are held at the Cinematheque next door.
Like any self-respecting temple of literature, Mt. Cloud has a resident ghost. They call her Carmen, and she regularly pushes books onto the floor. One week Noli me tangere was on the floor, and the following week El Filibusterismo, so there is a theme to her picks. No one has seen the ghost, so she’s either antisocial or looks perfectly human and indistinguishable from the clients. Of course it could be an industrious mouse, whose hard work is callously attributed to the supernatural.
Apart from the ghost, the bookshop is haunted by the heartbroken. For some reason, people like to sit on the cushions on the second floor and have a good cry. I don’t mean silent tears rolling down their faces, I mean wailing and sobbing. Sometimes they don’t even get to the second floor, but sit on the stairs and start bawling. Maybe it’s because being surrounded by books is so comforting: all those alternate universes offering asylum.
We assumed a lot of things from the poster of Captain Fantastic. The image of a family standing by a bus conjures up Little Miss Sunshine, the palette The Royal Tenenbaums. The brief summary brings up Peter Weir’s Mosquito Coast, in which Harrison Ford plays a father who takes his family “back to nature”, somewhere around the Amazon rainforest, with catastrophic results. The movie has bits of all of the above, but this exercise demonstrates how lazy viewers have become. Enough of “pegs”! Let’s talk about things. (Also, I just realized this is the first movie I’ve seen at the cinema in weeks that is not part of a franchise.)
Captain Fantastic, written and directed by Matt Ross (Gavin Belson on Silicon Valley), stars the singular Viggo Mortensen as Ben, a father raising six children ages 7-17 alone in the wild. He and his wife had intended to create a paradise and raise philosopher-kings out of Plato’s Republic. (Lazy descriptions: hippies, hipsters) The children are homeschooled and spectacularly literate—in one scene, the 8-year-old critiques the Bill of Rights. One of the teenagers is reading Lolita, and when she describes it as “interesting”, all the kids remind her that “interesting” is a non-word. True, it’s the default adjective when you’re too lazy to think of a proper description. Then she summarizes the novel, and her father says dwelling on the plot is lazy, too. Thinking deeply! An activity that is going extinct in the digital age.
Apart from literature, political theory, physics and Bach’s Goldberg Variations, they learn self-defense, hunting, and how to survive in the woods equipped only with a knife. Every morning they train as if they were competing in the Olympics. Ben always tells them the truth, even the things children are supposed to be shielded from. They don’t celebrate Christmas, they do Noam Chomsky Day. These kids are extremely well-educated, articulate, independent-thinking, anti-capitalist and self-sufficient. In short, they are freaks.
Unbeknownst to his father, the eldest son Bo (an excellent George MacKay) has applied to and been accepted by the entire Ivy League. Then something happens that requires them to encounter “the outside world”, and Ben is forced to re-examine his beliefs. Funny how the sustainable way of life is not sustainable in regular society.
Viggo is always terrific—the full frontal exposure is not completely necessary, but thanks anyway. Ross, who was Departmental Dan in The Last Days of Disco, never treats Ben as a weirdo or the kids as the butts of jokes—we know exactly whose side he’s on. I expected a fish-out-of-water comedy and got an affecting drama about the collision between personal belief and living in the world. Watch it before it vanishes from the cinema. It’s showing at Power Plant
only., Greenhills Promenade, and Robinson’s Galleria.