Captain Fantastic

captain fantastic 2016

Captain Fantastic [2016] is the sophomore feature film written and directed by Matt Ross who is probably, of late, more recognizably the face of Gavin Belson, the egomaniacal CEO of the fictitious tech goliath Hooli from HBO’s Silicon Valley. Ross’s film stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben, a left-leaning anti-establishment hippie who is raising his six kids in the wilderness. When Ben’s wife commits suicide, her funeral brings Ben and his kids back into the so-called “real” world where they must navigate multitudes of foreign situations and experiences that challenge their perspective and worldview.

‘Interesting’ is a Non-Word… This is unambiguously a film with something to say. At times, Captain Fantastic is almost too on-the-nose with its ideology, but given the option of this or the alternative (read: milquetoast navel-gazing), this is not a bad way to spend 2 hours of your day. Part drama, part comedy, wholly social critique, Captain Fantastic is as left-leaning, anti-Capitalistic, and anti-establishment as its intrepid lead character Ben. Steeped and dripping in ideology, replete with references to intellectualism—such as reading highbrow books like Middlemarch or Guns, Germs and Steel or practicing polyglotism or eschewing Christmas for a Noam Chomsky Day—Captain Fantastic will either be your cup of tea or your glass of sour milk. I invite you to watch and judge for yourself; but whether this film rubs you the right way or not, what is to be said of this film is that it’s an optimistic ode to thoughtful dissidence; to trying to live an alternative lifestyle, and to questioning tradition and the things that one ought to do. Though not everyone can renounce the comforts and conveniences of modern-day life for a self-sustaining and self-reliant alternative like Fantastic’s central characters, there is some food for thought here from Mortensen’s Ben and his band of hippie children. If it sounds, thus far, like this film is annoyingly single-minded in pushing its leftist ideology, rest assured that it is not as one-dimensional as that. Another aspect of this film’s thesis is a study of parenthood. For instance, this film asks its audience to consider: is it moral and ethical to raise children—beings who are, more or less, blank slates—in an environment completely outside of the norm? Is it appropriate to speak frankly to children about everything and anything that piques their curiosity—like death and sex? You may or may not agree with Ben, but you will think about where you stand on these questions, and any way you cut it, that’s a good corollary, no?

Shhh, Thespians at Work…George MacKay is the real Captain Fantastic. Or successor, I suppose. MacKay portrays Bo, Ben’s eldest son, with aplomb and humor. He has a magnetic screen presence that complements Mortensen’s rugged grit. Of note, there’s a particularly memorable monologue (of sorts) that’s delivered by MacKay that manages to be simultaneously tense, humorous, and cringe-worthy; and, it makes me wonder about what kinds of great work MacKay will go on to do. The five child actors who play Mortensen’s remaining children were each believable and charming and were a joy to watch.

Forgivable Shortcomings… If one were to nitpick—and there are always nits to be picked at—then one could say that this film fundamentally stretches credulity a bit. The thought of successfully raising six children in the wilderness who not only have neither succumb to dire maladies nor incurred fatal run-ins with wildlife but are also learned, well-read, well-educated, and well-trained in self-defense and survival tactics is a feat that’s nothing short of mythical. It’s as if Ron Swanson had a gaggle of children and took to the wilderness with them; except, Ron Swanson was always a tongue-in-cheek character, but Ben and his band of hippie children are real within the diegesis of this film. There is no question that this film does ask its audience to suspend a bit of disbelief. Whether you can do that or not will likely depend on how onboard or how charmed you are by this film. However, I would hazard a guess that if you watch this film, you may find that it’ll fairly quickly win you over for, just as you might have a soft spot for a loved one, this film is so endearing that you may find yourself forgiving of whatever shortcomings you may find. After all, there are worse offenses to appear on the big screen (I’m looking at you, Suicide Squad).

A charismatic left-leaning family film.