Film Review: Captain Fantastic

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Viggo Mortensen plays a nonconformist father in Matt Ross’ heretic family drama.

There are only a few films that exist to make you feel wholly good — Captain Fantastic is one of them. Ross attempts to philosophise on our ideal for living by wagering the commercial against the bohemian ideologies of Ben (Viggo Mortensen), whose character constructs an organic, Dame Nature-inspired lifestyle for his six children.

In obedient fashion his beatnik kids — who all seem to resemble the wide-set-eyed, Scandinavian kind — accept their father’s iconoclastic saintliness. However, after the death of their mother the devoted clan demand to attend the funeral in New Mexico. Soon enough the unprocessed, virgin woodland of the Pacific northwest is left behind as the family entrain on an old school van for a road trip, where they encounter the ironically so-called ‘real world.’

Ben is far from reticent about his thoughts on temporal American culture, and his actions speak louder than words — leaving a diner because there’s ‘no real food on the menu’ — much to the dismay of his children. At various points Ben is questioned on his parenting skills, including by his sister Harper (Kathryn Hahn), who believes he’ll kill his children by leading the lifestyle they are. This almost becomes a reality when Ben sends his daughter on a mission to rescue his estranged, angry son ninja-style.

While there is enough humour and eccentricity to give Captain Fantastic the feel-good factor there’s also an ever-present transcendent overtone. Ross asks a lot of questions, and perhaps the greatest of these is the metaphysics of a man vs. the legitimacy of his role as a father. How far can we be influenced by our parents before it becomes dangerous? Mortensen’s character is carefully balanced between two extremes permitting us to decide whether he is batshit crazy or just a passionate father.

Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine (Rust and Bone) articulately embraces the vivid and indelicate natural world, which makes up for the lack of subtle analysis on ethnology. Captain Fantastic overtly explores familial equilibrium, non-institutional education, and commercialism. Paired with an unembellished soundtrack, it’s a film with an elucidating message and one that leaves an indelible impression.

We gave it 4 / 5 mangos.