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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SOMEBODY’S CHILD

(NOTE: This piece was written in September 2016 as a response to the devastating image of Alan Kurdi.  I later revised this piece so that it could be used for a creative writing submission. It was not initially my intention to have this read by anyone other than myself, as I use writing as a means to deal with overwhelming emotions. However, I seem to be finding that my most vulnerable works are succeeding in garnering a reaction from readers. If reaction means dialogue and dialogue can lead to change, then perhaps this is the way forward. R.I.P Alan Kurdi and all those innocent souls who remain nameless, yet never forgotten x)

There’s stillness, save for the flutter of the newspapers in the hot breeze of the Underground. The tube swerves into sight but the commuters bat not an eyelid- they’re fixated, withholding tears as their eyes follow the curve of the corpse, the young poster boy immortalised like the Falling Man.

On days like these, the urgency of the Western world subsides into a dull drone. Sirens and beeping horns on the main roads trade places with the laps of the waves. The vibration of an incoming text fails to be heard over the call of the ocean. The Kurdi boy reaches through the monochrome bars of the print and he refuses to let us go.

There’s silence over morning tea. An awkward clearing of the throat as John or James or Jack, or whatever his name is, goes to get some fresh air. He stands in his empty garden and sheds a solitary tear for a boy that he doesn’t even know. It doesn’t matter, he tells himself. The kid was probably the same age as his grandson. It’s a tragedy, all the same.

It’s a bit worrying, that it takes so much to get us to pay attention. Only when the truth reaches out to us via the tentacles of the internet and news, drawing us out of our daily lives like dirt from pores, do we acknowledge the presence of something much bigger than ourselves. Until then, we scroll past devastation in favour of finding funny Buzzfeed articles. We flick over the BBC news updates in favour of something a little more light-hearted, justifying ignorance as being entirely acceptable after a ten-hour shift at work.

And on the days when the truth leaks into the sterile space our brains occupy, we find ourselves utterly lost. A fleshy sack of nerves. We cling to our children a little tighter. We see the faces of the dead in empty cars on bitterly cold nights.

It’s been more than a year since that newspaper headline.

In the meantime, the refugees of this world, the direct products of our bombs and our exploitation, are still condemned and still unwelcome.

I don’t know if James, or whatever his name is, even remembers that morning but I sure do. I went home last night and thought about the little boy. He was all I could see before me as I tossed and turned. When I finally fell asleep, he was there waiting for me.

He’d cried himself dry, pummelled at the water with every bit of force he could summon. He kept screaming out for his mother in between being stifled by the waves which seemed like mountains, constantly building up and avalanching down upon him. He was trying really hard- his little legs pumping with an instinct to survive being the drive behind every movement. He kept trying to hold onto the water but no welcoming arms reached out to embrace him.

I was calling out to him, shouting as loud as I could when I saw his head bob beneath the surface a final time. I swam as hard as I could, it felt as though something was pulling me down towards the bottom of the sea, tugging hard at my ankles. But I pushed on, calling over and over. I got close to the spot I thought I’d seen him and tread water with all my might. A little way off I saw something and it was him. Surfacing again. Only this time he emerged as a new boy.

A still boy.

When I got to him, he was peaceful. His hands were unfurled and his body had curled up into the foetal position.

I held him like a baby.                                                         He was just a baby.

My salty tears joined with the waters. I let the force of the water carry us somewhere, somewhere that could have, should have, been home for him. With heavy limbs and against angry waves, he’d succumbed to the urge to finally stop.

We arrived, jutting from the foamy mouth of the sea and found ourselves stuck on the sandy shores. I watched as they claimed his corpse with a snapshot, capturing a magnificent dusk against the horizon, against the lifeless version of him. Still. Hair plastered to his forehead, face submerged in the glistening grains, waves licking at his legs.

Have mercy.

That’s what they said in a foreign tongue that sailed across the turbulence of the Mediterranean. The anguish travelled in the winds but we didn’t hear it.

We turned our heads away from the TV because the images made us feel so small and so sad that we couldn’t keep watching.