Captain Fantastic is the beautiful story of a dad who wants to be a perfect dad and a perfect husband, but it all just doesn’t work out as planned. Both hilarious and sad, Captain Fantastic holds up a mirror to our modern society and wraps it inside a touching story about a family that just doesn’t seem to fit in our world. They are like an experiment, an argument against our society, but when real human wants and needs crop up, the experiment becomes impossible to stick with.
If you’re a parent, or just imagine you are one, who would not want his or her children to grow up to their full potential? And who does not see how, if you spend your time in a productive way, you can make a child grow up in a healthy way, stuffed with confidence, strength and knowledge? And who does not see how our modern world, with its sugary food, low-brow entertainment and faulty schooling systems, works like a barrier against this? What Ben (Viggo Mortensen) did was to see his parentage as a chance to rectify these faults in the system. On the one hand by protecting his children from the modern world, on the other to teach them himself.
So now we have a family living in the woods, with little kids discussing political philosophy, reading about quantum physics and celebrating Noam Chomsky day. They can survive with nothing but a knife, but can they still adapt to the rest of the world? When Ben and his family leave to travel from Oregon to Texas, we see that their lifestyle has made that rather hard. Most of the film is comedic in tone, as we see the kids observe fat people for the first time, and with the father commenting on the consumerist culture that they’ve been separated from. Only later, the story gets more dramatic. Tonal shifts like these are tricky, but it’s done very well here. Captain Fantastic makes it to the finish as a deeply touching, heartfelt film.
Viggo Mortensen has a soft, gentle confidence to him that suits his role perfectly. The same gentle strength that made him a good Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings also made him an inspiring father in this smaller setting. He wants to both teach and protect his children, but when his youngest son starts rebelling and asking questions, we see the father retreating to rationalizations. More and more, a certain sadness and bother is fermenting inside the man, and a certain carelessness in the way he treats his children. Underneath, we sense that there is a belief in what he is doing is right and he holds on to that, even though the signs are not always good.
Captain Fantastic isn’t only about being a father and a husband. It’s also about rebelling against the world and all that you can see is wrong with it, and how far it is wise to go in this rebellion. And whether you should involve your children in this, who never had a chance to come to the same conclusions that you did. The film made me laugh out loud, shake in anger and cry in sorrow and joy. There’s a real texture and clarity to its storytelling. It’s also about so many things: about society, growing up, hard choices, grief, family and parenthood. It’s a wonder how this film managed to address all of this in a clear, flowing storyline.
Captain Fantastic is one of my favorite films of the year and I’m confident that it will earn a high place in the eventual top lists. It’s a smart, heartfelt film that has something to offer for everybody.