“Captain Fantastic” stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben, a father of six, raising his children off the grid in the backcountry of Oregon. His wife and the mother of these extraordinary children has gone back to society due to a depression disorder. After learning of her suicide, the family must re-enter life and the chaotic world to deal with this trauma. It’s an imaginative wake-up call and beautiful portrayal of relationships expressing what is truly important in life.
The term “home school” has quite a unique meaning as we see Ben (Mortensen) and his children hunting for their food sans guns. The poor deer never had a chance. The actions we witness are startling, initially, and then we see that these children not only learn survival skills, but also philosophy, quantum physics, and literature that most of us would have been introduced to in graduate school. From the adorable Zaja (Shree Crooks) who adores her dad, but misses her mom, to the young adult Bo (George MacKay), struggling to grow up and find his way, these children exhibit the intelligence and intuitiveness any parent would be proud of. However, not having been exposed to outside influences, the situations and reactions they find themselves in are at times hilarious and others heartbreaking.
You become invested in this film from the moment you meet the children. As you get to know their personalities, hopes, and desires, you truly care about them. Watching their interactions, listening to them talk about Marxism, Noam Chomsky, and hearing their innocent comments about American society makes you think about your own values and parenting skills. Imagine never having seen a video game before or having rehearsed how to handle being pulled over by the police while driving an unregistered bus. These situations are surprisingly comedic. Then we have the stark contrast between this family and their cousins which creates a visual dichotomy that is as sad as it is funny. Attending their mother’s funeral is the end goal, but each child is affected differently by this great loss. The “family team” begins to fall apart, especially after being exposed to the luxurious wealth of their grandfather (Frank Langella). It’s a complicated, multilevel story just like real life.
Mortensen is stellar in this role. He portrays a tough, yet caring and loving father who ultimately questions his style of parenting—much like any other parent. We feel his pain, his sorrow, and his ultimate love. MacKay typifies any 17 or 18 year old in many ways, but his innocence is simply charming even as he rebels and defies his father. Shree Crooks steals the show as she delivers lines completely unexpected for a little girl. The entire cast of children is truly remarkable as we watch the family dynamics spiral out of control. Langella easily portrays the gruff and judgmental grandfather who is mourning the loss of his daughter. The antagonistic relationship between his character and Ben is uncomfortably real bringing even more credibility to these outstanding performances.
“Captain Fantastic” gives us a beautifully complicated story enveloped by gorgeous cinematography. At the core of this film is the issue of relationships and the continuous growth each character experiences. Touching upon life, death, independence, and family bonds, “Captain Fantastic” is not just an entertaining movie, it’s thought-provoking, intelligent, and genuine.