Film review: Captain Fantastic

When a film comes out with a title like ‘Captain Fantastic’ and you’re sure it’s not of the superhero genre, you’d be right in assuming it’s going to be quirky.

Sep 08, 2016, updated Sep 08, 2016

There’s a play on stereotypes that really works, and it begins with someone who can Save the World.

Viggo Mortensen plays Ben, a father of six who’s raising his family alone in the Pacific north-west wilderness, in an off-the-grid/stick-it-to-the-man way, while his wife is in hospital with bipolar disorder.

The children are exercised physically and intellectually daily, “training” by racing under branches and over logs, scaling rock walls and learning to fight combatively (with points to aim for with a knife). They read George Eliot and Nabokov, as well as texts on quantum theory, and can recite the American Bill of Rights.

They know how to hunt, how to skin and how to bone a wild animal, and at the end of the day, they play music around the campfire. They’re happy.

But when their mother commits suicide and they must go on a mission to rescue her body from a Christian burial and give her the Buddhist cremation she’d wanted, the clash between their world and the mainstream world of those they encounter along the way will change things forever.

What director Matt Ross brings to this film is two ways of looking at a thing. Yes, Ben is authoritatively intimidating, but he’s also tender and respectful. Yes, his children parrot him, but when he says, “that’s plot; give me an analysis”, it’s obvious they’ve been taught well enough to think things through.

And, yes, when the wilderness family meet the urbanised families, those with X-boxes and big houses are made to look ridiculous, but as his sister says, “We’re all just trying to do the best that we can”. And it’s impossible not to side with them then, even if momentarily, because they are like us, lapping up our Western privileges even in paying money to watch this film.

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The Western way of living has serious problems, but the alternative is not necessarily an exemplary approach. Both, however, can be incredibly rewarding.

Finding a middle-ground might be an easy way out, but it’s the getting to the point of needing to find that middle-ground that’s interesting. I’m very much applauding this film for being one of the more motivating ways of looking at our society and those on the outer.

The plot rolls along at an entertaining speed, the characters are lively, the scenery is stunning, Mortensen – as Captain Fantastic – is spectacular, and there’s just as much quirk as there’s need for tissues.

Topics: Film reviews
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