“We’re defined by our actions, not our words.”
We live in a time when an ever increasing percent of movies are high budget blockbusters that neglect story to pack in enough action that never fails to draw the young people of today’s movie goers. Every other release is a tentpole staple used to generate the high box office numbers that studios covet. The art of film is being exploited in order to take money from an audience that is pleased only with a constantly rising level of violence and action. The diminishing population, that longs for a well crafted film of substance and power, is left to seek out what only independent films now offer. The movie world is in dire need of some imagination and thankfully Captain Fantastic comes to the rescue, saving the day with one of the most vibrant films of the year.
Captain Fantastic is the story of Ben and Leslie who decide to take the unconventional family route and drop off the grid to raise their six children in the woods and follow their ideological views. Ben trains the kids in rigorous survival skills and academics: They can scale a mountain, kill a deer, recite from memory the Bill of Rights, speak several different languages, understand complicated physics concepts and play instruments. Needless to say they’re well rounded children but the only flaw in this unconventional lifestyle is the their lack of interaction with the real world. Video games, cellphones, fast food and Christmas are all novel concepts to them. But when tragedy strikes with their mother’s death, a cross country road trip to her funeral turns into an amazing adventure of discovery for them.
Captain Fantastic is a beautifully colorful film, both visually and conceptually. The colors and aesthetic captured with Stéphane Fontaine’s cinematography are vivid and rich and the story contains many complex layers including elements of political and social issues and character studies. It feels fun and lighthearted at times, but the story is laden with serious matters. However, despite the death that hangs heavy throughout and the deep ethical issues that burden the story, director Matt Ross manages to let light through and maintain an upbeat and often humorous atmosphere.
The range of emotion in Captain Fantastic is wonderful with scenes alternating from heartwarming to some that take on a much darker tone. The film begins with a stunning sequence of daily life that reveals how close they are as a family unit and you can’t help but smile at it. The next scene shows Ben telling his children that their mother has died and it’s made even more gut wrenching by the young actors who are utterly convincing. The entire cast, in fact, brings a vast array of refreshingly authentic emotions to the table with seamless performances from the young actors and a powerful one from Viggo Mortensen who all portray dynamic characters.
Captain Fantastic achieves a great feat in that it lingers in the mind well after the last credit rolls, forcing you to ponder the issues and take a stance. Though every child is fit, healthy and happy and equipped with more skills then most kids, Ben’s parenting ability is frowned upon by many who believe that he endangers them. Herein lies the query the film poses; is an unplugged childhood, away from all forms of materialism, consumerism and technology, lived completely in nature, ideal? Is their lifestyle a blessing or an inhibiting curse? At the end of the day, will they end up better off than those raised on tv and computer games? The film does not seem to lean toward one side or the other; there is no agenda, it just poses the question. Though it is extreme in it’s views, it makes a case against the materialistic and shallow cookie-cutter world of today’s society through a film that provides the exact opposite, substance and creativity.
Captain Fantastic is a remarkable accomplishment in story, craft and message and it radiates imagination and originality. There is nothing else like it and it is an invigorating breath of fresh air. It’s beautifully deep, full of heart and ultimately, a story about the strife and also great joy that come with being part of a family. Families will fight, they’ll disagree and annoy each other but at the end of they day they’re all you’ve got, and that is what Captain Fantastic, at it’s heart, is about.