Captain Fantastic Movie Review
In the movie Captain Fantastic, which is most certainly not about a superhero, Viggo Mortensen’s character asks one of his spirited daughters to analyze the novel “Lolita,” to which she responds, roughly, “You know what he’s doing isn’t right, but you see it through his eyes. You see his love.”
In Matt Ross’ powerful, thought-provoking comedy-drama, Ben Cash (Mortensen) isn’t a pedophile obsessed with a 14-year-old like in Vladimir Nabokov’s classic, but he is a man with very particular views, views that have led him to raise his children in the wilderness, away from society and taught to hate society. For those of us in society--those of us who like to watch movies and eat popcorn and drink “poison water” (read: soda), you know what’s happening: in his efforts to raise his children closer to the “real world,” he isn’t preparing his kids for the world we live in.
With Ben’s wife dead by suicide (and his father-in-law threatening legal action if he shows up to the funeral), the family is forced to face some terrible truths, and Ben’s oldest (George MacKay), who is smart, educated and secretly intending to attend one of the many Ivy League schools he’s been accepted into, is perhaps the most aware that something is off: as smart as he is, he is completely unsocialized, unable to interact with girls or understand how to behave around other people. He knows what he reads in books, but he is wholly unprepared for the world.
What makes Captain Fantastic so enthralling is that it forces the audience to ask deep questions. What is the real world? Is it the world of nature, where man must live off the land? Or is it the world that most of us live in, where we drive cars and buy processed food from corporations? Captain Fantastic doesn’t take sides, not really. The movie is shown through the eyes of Ben, and through his eyes you can see the absurdity of society--that people are unwilling to speak about death as it really is (“she was sick and passed away” vs. “she had a mental illness and slit her wrists”), or that most people would be unable to survive in the wilderness, or a million other things--but Ben is also a fanatic, not crazy but certainly someone with strong, extreme views who is intolerant of other ways of life.
Writer/director Matt Ross takes us on a journey mixed with drama, humor and awkwardness, encouraging the audience to feel a range of emotions and embrace this weird family he has put to paper and on screen. The most awkward [and entertaining] scenes occur when the family interacts with “regular people,” suburbanites and extended family members who don’t understand, or wholly disapprove, of the way Ben has raised his children. But Ross has concocted deep, interesting (to quote Ben, “interesting” is an empty word, and it’s a word I use all the time because I’m too lazy to think of something more descriptive) characters, and rarely misses a beat from start to finish.
Captain Fantastic falters only slightly in the last act, though the fault may lie more with me than anything Ross did. I was certain the movie was going to end at a specific point, and instead it goes on for another half an hour, forcing answers or semi-answers to many of the questions the film poses. And yet there are times where the movie seems to abandon reason--without saying too much, Ben’s decision to give up on something near and dear to his heart is abrupt and hard to fathom, and the subsequent reversal of fortunes seems silly and convenient. For a movie that for the most part feels real and complex, Ross takes a few shortcuts.
Captain Fantastic isn’t perfect, but it’s still a powerful, unique and often profound film that presents serious questions while remaining grounded, accessible and, most importantly, entertaining.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.