Captain Fantastic is a drama film directed by Matt Ross, and written by him as a semi-autobiographical reflective piece made into a commercial movie in 2016. It revolves around a family of seven living in the woods of North-west America, as they reject the ideals of present day use of technology and ways of living, and following a primitive hunter-gatherer life.
It documents their change to the lifestyle of the modern humans as the mother of the family passes away, forcing their father to bring the kids out to the harsh realities of life in current America. The film stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben Cash, the father, and also has George MacKay, Steve Zahn, Kathryn Hahn and Frank Langella as supporting cast.
The movie begins with news of how the mother, Leslie Cash, has taken her own life at a hospital after being ill for a while. Ben Cash, her husband, has been training their kids in the laws of the wilderness and equipping them with physical skills of combat, primitive weapons, mountain climbing and basic survival skills. The collectively believe in technology being the ruin of civilization and capitalism as the reason for misery. The children follow a strict regime of curated knowledge from books, practical learning from the forest and being independent enough to survive alone in the wild.
When they get the news that their grandfather (mother’s father) is holding a memorial to bury their mother without her wishes, they prepare to visit her one last time. Their grandfather, played by Frank Langella, blames Ben for his daughter’s death and threaten legal action if he is seen anywhere near the funeral.
Ben and his kids take the gamble and venture out into civilization for the first time, with awkward moments of introductions to the modern way of living and funny moments of getting used to this world. He teaches his kids the hierarchies of existence, how uneven and unfair the world really is and also encounter many personal hurdles and existential crises.
Captain Fantastic is very philosophical in its nature, and for those who know, embodies Plato’s idea of life and justice. It has elements of romance, action, drama and comedy, all in right amounts with the underlying motif of the meaning of human existence. This is also the reason people might find the movie boring, because it’s highly unrealistic and hard to digest.
The acting is spot on, with the highlight being Mortensen’s portrayal of Ben Cash, Captain Fantastic, and the characters played by his kids. They have done a great job in portraying their roles, often fooling the viewers that they might actually be a family in real life (spoiler alert: they’re not). The acting is definitely what keeps the story moving even though it is dry and lacks depth as a piece of cinema.
Why watch Captain Fantastic?
The only reason to think of could be the acting and the humour you encounter as they try to fit in. The storyline is pretty basic, linear and straightforward, but it’s the idea behind the story that is more philosophical. We see how the director is trying to question societal norms, but that is somewhat of a difficult reality to grasp.
But if you really want to watch it, it is suggested you look out for America’s natural beauty as a condolence, the camera work justifying the scenic and colourful view that it presents. If this movie isn’t what you’re looking for, check out the one on action-adventure Jungle Cruise, or if realistic romantic-drama is your niche, Modern Love is just in your ballpark.