Captain Fantastic: Not Quite a Crown Jewel
By Cameron Allan
I’d like to preface this review by thanking mothers and fathers everywhere for doing the only thing they can, and that’s trying. I’m no parent yet (thankfully), but that doesn’t mean I’m ignorant to the fact that it’s a thankless, multifaceted full-time job. Your tiny carbon copy doesn’t come with an instruction manual to guarantee successful emergence into society either, and one wrong move carries with it the potential to permanently alter your child’s outlook for the worse. I mean, we’ve all seen enough horror films to know what deep-seated mommy and daddy issues can manifest into if gone untreated.
As a parent, you are single- or double-handedly responsible for the health, happiness and future wellbeing of your children. We have spent whole millennia searching for the best possible upbringing we can provide for the future of our race. Even in the modern day, parents have been known to employ some less-than-conventional rearing techniques. Maybe you decide to withhold your child from receiving potentially lifesaving vaccinations, allow them to have a glass of vino with their steak dinner and give them the old one-two butt spank for disciplinary purposes. All of those, except the former, are within the realm of reason for most, right? Yet as soon as you start getting into hermit territory, I think most would have a line drawn faster than a gerrymandering politician.
Captain Fantastic covers both the above noted themes of family and natural life in painstaking detail. Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) a progressively-minded, free spirit who, in the hum of nature rather than the roar of civilization, raises his 6 person, modern day pioneer brood in the wooded, boreal depths of the Pacific Northwest. The plethoric personalities of the Cash family have managed to assert their oneness with, and rightful dominance over, the environment through their laborious physical and mental training regimen. Just as things couldn’t be more picturesquely utopian, news of their absent mothers suicide forces the quintet too embark on a city bound journey in their jalopy to attend a funeral that is contrary to the their mothers dying will.
Mortensen’s Ben Cash, the patriarch, coach, teacher etc. of the family, carries the film with his equally endearing and arrogant nature. Picture a more hilarious version of that humanities major you knew in college who told everyone he smoked opium, drank absinthe and felt as though they had a grander understanding of the world than the rest of the uncultured plebeians that inhabit it. He’s blunt, no B.S and fires off axioms at the speed of an automatic assault rifle the second anything is mentioned about organized religion, big pharma, or post-secondary institutions. His intentional absence from civilization, didn’t infringe upon his personal civility, always leaving time for love, introspection, meditative breaks, music and self-expression.
His personality definitely bleeds into his eldest, oddly named son, Bodevan (George Mackay), who is the product of the inverse effect being incredibly book smart has on a person. They become oblivious to the world beyond the pages. Sure, he’s literally been accepted to the entire Ivy League, but when asked about basic pop cultural information, he’d find himself none the wiser after due explanation. The same went for his hilarious courtship interactions with women, where after a brief romantic encounter he fancied himself ready to settle down.
The rest of the ensemble is maintained in the family trademark of genius level linguistic and numerical intellect. I didn’t find anyone other than Mortensen’s main costar to stand out much from the crowd though. The only nuances they had from one another were their downward spiraling naïveté and innocence from oldest to youngest. Regardless of the fact that all of them have read an entire archive of academic literature each, it was INTERESTING, yea I said it, that they still had an underlying sheltered perspective on the world at large. Their dumbfounded expressions at the violent display from their cousin’s videogames captured this inexperience with visual perfection.
The cinematography was stunning, but tamed itself in certain regards to prevent breaking from the independent feel. During certain scenes, it was apparent that the camera was being freehanded, which added to the realism of the forested setting. The film tastefully blended both visual and auditory storytelling in ways I didn’t expect. There were several uses of effective drawn out silences, where nothing but the trickling rivers, caw of birds and rolling wind broke it.
The wildly funny humor is one of the major selling points of this film. I could tell there wasn’t a joke counter on deck from screenwriter/director Matt Ross. Rather, he allowed for it to come about in an appreciable, implicit and organic way. What I do wish he counted was the amount of pages he wrote before deciding to wrap everything up in a cohesive and timely efficient way. It does reward you for your patience at the end, but the muddled lead up and girthy length of the last act will leave you glancing at your watch.
For everything it does right and wrong, I left feeling like a voyeur of the Cash family lifestyle. I’ve always believed that independent films present viewers with the most unique of stories at the expense of poorer production quality. Captain Fantastic has taken that preconceived notion of mine and slapped me across the face with it, effortlessly showing itself as a gorgeous, odd ball story about the importance of family, and the necessity of taking a minute to embrace the beauty of Mother Nature. In one sentence, I’d call it a visceral, caricatured version of Survivorman–urine drinking aside. I give Captain Fantastic a 7.5 out of 10.