FILM REVIEW: Captain Fantastic

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Captain Fantastic is a feel-good film akin to indie-titan, sleeper hits such as Little Miss Sunshine and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It’s charming, heartwarming and tells the tale of a progressive couple’s utopian vision of what the world could be.

A large family, consisting of six children and their father Ben Cash (played by Viggo Mortensen), live in the middle of absolute wilderness. They hunt for their food, they communally climb mountains, they sleep under the stars, they read avidly and drop Marxist ideology casually into conversation. They don’t celebrate Christmas (instead opting for “Noam Chomsky’s Birthday), and spend their days critiquing the capitalist, materialistic ways of living that are adopted in mainstream society.

This is a community of highly intelligent and subversive youths who are aware that they live in relative squalor, but prefer the notion of this to living like everybody else. It’s quite the unusual narrative because they allude to a world beyond the woods and aren’t sheltered from the knowledge that they’re different but there’s no sense of desire for that mode of life, even with the awareness that it exists. What I like about this film, and this seems particularly apt given our current COVID-19 situation, is that provides a glimpse of a simpler and kinder world where people aren’t lost in their phones and connections are forged through physical interaction.

The film begins with the ritualistic ceremony of manhood, performed in the middle of a forest. Following a successful game-hunt, Bodevan Cash, the eldest sibling (played by George MacKay), is crowned in glory with his younger siblings watching on as he consumes the raw organs of his catch (as dictated by his father). They head back to their home, essentially a patch in the woodlands that they’ve occupied with scarce belongings before gathering together to eat the food they’ve caught and cooked themselves, before bursting into spontaneous song, with each child playing their own instruments. The next morning, Bodevan and Ben head out to the local town to collect their mail and pick up some supplies. It is during this trip that Ben discovers his wife, a lifelong victim of Bipolar disorder, has passed away in hospital after a successful suicide attempt.

When their world is turned upside down by the unexpected death of their mother, the family are thrust into a powerful collision with the “real world” . Hearing that a conventional and religious funeral has been arranged (by their grandparents) for their free-spirited, Buddhist mother, the children force Ben into a wicked scheme to sabotage the ceremony and give her the send-off she would have wanted.

There’s a dark comedic element that literally encourages you to laugh out loud during the most uncomfortable scenes and perhaps this is because of Mortensen and his quiet charm as the rugged founding father of the community. Mortensen captures the conflicting shades of Ben’s personality as a really protective, loving and sometimes overbearing father. There’s so many scenes that make your chest all warm and fuzzy, with the family sticking together through thick and thin. The beauty of this film is in the simplicity of its narrative. This family deal with the impact of grief and loss, as they reconcile with an extended family who have a prickly response to the lifestyle choices that Ben has made, and sustained by indoctrinating his children. It’s a testing experience and brings to the surface some tensions between the siblings, as well as the ideologies they’ve accepted their whole lives.

Honestly? I’m so glad I found this on Netflix and I cannot recommend it enough to all those who are currently living in quarantined conditions. I don’t have a fixed list of favourite movies but I can say, without a doubt, that it’d be in the top 5. Captain Fantastic is filled with strong performances by a talented cast, and powerful commentaries on the way we live in modern society.

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