Plot: 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.
I have only had the pleasure to find a handful of films that had the power to make me consider whether my beliefs need to be reevaluated, managed to be ingenious and non-offensive and maintain originality. I also need to listen when the entire world tells me to go watch a movie because I will like it. Finally sitting down to watch Captain Fantastic was a rewarding experience and something I will gladly do again.
It’s an easy way to go with this review, but let me tell you, Captain Fantastic, is, well, friggin Fantastic. Viggo Mortensen, also known as Lord Aragorn and King of My Heart*, plays Ben Cash, a survivalist living with his 6 children and wife Leslie in the Washington wilderness. Following Leslie’s suicide, Ben decides to take his children to her funeral, inciting the wrath of his father in law, who does not agree with how his grand children are being raised.
The movie was ready with answers to all the questions I could think of. The first is naturally the presumption that survivalists are ill-informed and uneducated. Leslie was an attorney before she and Ben moved to the Wilderness. Ben’s youngest daughter is more capable of reciting and understanding the Bill of Rights than the teenager of his sister. They are taught to think critically and not only to parrot information, but to understand and dissect facts. They are well fed and although their lifestyle is unorthodox, they are taken care of. Ben doesn’t abuse his children – physically or through the neglect so accidentally bestowed upon children in modern society.
Ben also tells his children the truth. He doesn’t hide it that their mother committed suicide, and meets his and their grief face on. He doesn’t lie about sex or make it a taboo subject – it is just another topic in their household. While I can’t really see myself being quite that open to young children, I do like that it didn’t turn into this sneaky taboo thing our Western society makes it to be.
Then there is also literally everyone else in the movie, who believes Ben is either insane or just plain wrong. And are they wrong? They are all acting out of concern and clearly love Ben and his children. Ben’s father in law (played by Frank Langella) is the most vocal about it and even though he serves as the “antagonist”, he’s clearly not a bad man and wants the best for his grand kids who he so clearly adores.
I don’t have kids and I don’t plan on having some anytime soon, but I think the majority of parents want the best for their children. This movie explores a far right approach to parenting and is shot well enough with enough consideration to present this insane approach as viable. Viggo Mortensen and the rest of the cast are incredible carriers of this story – the accolade of best actor would have been well bestowed on this nominee at the Oscars. There is depth and knowledge in the way he carries this role and seems to be Ben completely. I also particularly liked George McKay as Bo, because his story was at a critical time where he had to move on to the next phase of his life. His knowledge about everything yet about nothing when it comes to being a real teenager was well played out by the actor, and he also managed to make the situations he finds himself in a bit funny while also highlighting what is wrong with Ben’s parenting approach.
The ending is satisfactory – a little yielding in Ben’s approach to accommodate the needs of his growing children, and yet it still remains in line with what he holds as the truth in his heart. It does show that at the end of all his eccentricity, he loves his children and is willing to do everything for them.