Writer-Director Matt Ross brings us Captain Fantastic; the story of a family that isn’t satisfied with “civilised” live in the modern age. There’s a lot of dissatisfaction in people in general these days and people deal with this looming feeling differently. Some people travel and wander in search of fulfilment, some hone a craft and reduce the world’s complications to stitches in a homemade knitted sweater or joints in a carpentry project. Others delve into the world of readily available media in all its forms and seek the truth from the words and expressions of others and I think right now I am one of these people tumbling down the cinematic and literary rabbit hole. People say the education system is flawed, kids shouldn’t be schooled only to pass exams, this film embodies that point of view.
Dripping in references to acclaimed high-brow literature, music and personas you’d think Woody Allen had a hand in writing Captain Fantastic. The film is light-hearted enough that many viewers won’t feel inadequate but it does come close to the border of being a little elitist and difficult to relate to (the book Ready Player One, soon to be film, may one day be similarly accused) which in my opinion may detract from the moral of the story.
Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife had several uniquely named children and, being much smarter than everyone else, decided to rescue them from monotony and tedious lifestyles by moving into the forest and teaching them a hunter-gatherer, nomadic way of life infused with poetry, music and philosophical writings to broaden their horizons. There are many hilarious moments built around this concept, and equally as many touching ones. Learning all you know about anything through a book rings of Good Will Hunting and there are several similar scenes hinging in a similar fashion on awkward recital of textbook phrases and lack of pop culture knowledge. They sing and dance, hunt, and read together as a family except one member becomes unreachable early on in the film and paradise becomes paradise lost as they family dynamic is upset dramatically.
The ideas tackled in the film surrounding proper parenting in the modern age are done so without shyness or tact for younger audiences much like the manner in which Ben communicates with his kids; free from civilised social grace the often taboo topics of politics and sex are spoken about openly which gives the film a very liberating feel. That being said there are also moments that, due to the nature of a sole teacher teaching many, the elf-like kids with flowers in their hair appear indoctrinated and despite their indoctrination being with liberal, progressive and intelligent thinking I couldn’t keep certain enraging images from the film Jesus Camp popping into my brain. The film is generally gorgeous to watch as well with a charmingly low-budget aesthetic that sparingly uses drone shots and CGI but to great effect.
To wrap it up, then. Yeah, it was a bit preachy. Occasionally melodramatic. Harping on about the flaws in society like hundreds of other films have done before, more of the same etc. etc. I still liked it. What can I say, I’m a sucker for quirkiness, for references, for hunter-gatherer 8-year old american kids with combat knives – it’s hilarious.
Enjoyed it. 7.5/10