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.