Starring Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella, Ann Dowd
There is a beauty inside Matt Ross’s film “Captain Fantastic” that is rare and unexplored on film. What might appear as an eccentric, unorthodox father, endangering the lives of his six children by raising them on 300-year-old methods. An open minded viewer might instead find a film that explores the difficulties of parenthood regardless of the style they choose. Inspired by his own tribulations with raising children, Ross delivers a film that stuffs every frame with innovative production design, a captivating original score composed by Alex Somers, and a leading character played by Viggo Mortensen (“The Lord of the Rings”) that feels tailor made to his sensibilities. “Captain Fantastic” captures life, whether through laughter, influential conversations or the celebration of loss.
Ben (Moretensen) and Leslie (Trin Miller) made a choice to take their lives and family into nature and away from modern society. They would raise six children in the Pacific Northwest, living off the land and natural resources, home schooling and equipping their offspring with the tools of survival. However, Leslie suffers from severe bi-polar disorder and leaves Ben as the single parent. The children’s ages range from eldest, 18-year-old Bodevan (Mackay), to youngest, 5-year-old Nai (Charlie Shotwell). Their days consist of harvesting the land and animals for food and shelter, learning defense and education through books and art. When tragedy strikes, the family must journey in their camper bus to New Mexico and carryout the wishes of their mother despite the extended family’s resistance to their lifestyle.
Captain Fantastic generates discussion, insight, self-reflection and maybe even a little magic.
If Christopher McCandless (“Into the Wild”) had survived his life affirming journey across the Midwest into Alaska, I believe the character of Ben is exactly the type of husband/father he would have evolved into. “The Kings of Summer” (2013), “Into the Wild” (2007) and “Captain Fantastic” could almost work together as a trilogy: ‘Life Off the Beaten Path’. During a dinner scene with Leslie’s sister Harper (Hahn) the film reaches the height of comparisons between Ben’s family and the modern family. Scenes where Ben’s children are faced with scenario’s they are unprepared for (talking to the opposite sex, playing video games, etc) are mostly comic relief. Yet it builds toward a climax where Ben must account for the choices he made for his family and accept that even this alternative lifestyle won’t keep the outside world away.
“There is no cavalry. No one will magically appear and save you in the end,” Ben explains to Rellian (Hamilton), the 13-year-old who fractures his hand while they are family rock climbing hundreds of feet in the air. Honestly is the policy, even when his younger children ask about sex or what’s happening with their mother. The screenplay continues to ask the question; what is right and what is responsible, until it becomes so loud Ben is forced to make a decision. Ben’s own self-realization doesn’t different from the one George Clooney had to face in “The Descendants”. “The backup parent” who becomes the single parent in charge of all the decisions. Mortensen’s best performances were always the soulful ones, requiring body language over large amounts of dialogue or action. He exceeds even the greatest of expectations that culminate in one of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes that capture his withered face in close up, driving their bus Steve away from the family. Mortensen, Ross and the entire team tap into something larger than just entertainment. Captain Fantastic generates discussion, insight, self-reflection and maybe even a little magic.
Unconventionally the best family film of the year.