Published in Issue 15, Craccum Magazine 2016.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film as uplifting and thought-provoking as this one. Captain Fantastic follows Ben (Viggo Mortenson) and his six children, living off the grid in the Pacific Northwest. It is revealed that the family moved into the woods when Ben’s wife Leslie was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Thinking it would help her condition, they rejected the capitalist world they disliked and built a self-sufficient life free from society’s mores. “What we created here may be unique in all of human existence,” Mortensen says. “We created paradise.”
To members of polite society, Ben and his children’s way of life is viewed as abnormal. Their daily routine consists of a rigorous exercise regime followed by a deep meditation session, garden maintenance, hunting, musical practice then reading around the campfire. The family are happy, until Leslie, who has been moved to a mental institution, commits suicide. Suddenly, Ben and his family are forced to leave their isolated life and journey to New Mexico for the funeral, exposing the children to the ‘real’ world – depending on your view of what ‘real’ really is, of course.
This is perhaps the central question that the film grapples with. Which lifestyle is more ‘real’? The one of video games and consumption that the children encounter while staying with their cousins? Or the one amidst nature and secluded from society altogether? Ben’s father in law is no fan, and threatens to take the children from him so that they can be raised ‘normally.’ “Even if they make it through whatever it is you’re doing to them, they’re going to be totally unprepared for the real world,” he asserts. Ben’s answer is simple: “and I happen to think the opposite is true.”
The best thing about Captain Fantastic is the chemistry within Ben’s family. Mortenson plays the role of loving, idealistic father perfectly – it almost seems as though the role was made for him. The children, in particular eldest son Bodevan (George MacKay), are outstanding. Funny, sweet and completely convincing in their portrayal of kids raised in the wild, they, alongside Mortenson, carry this film. Captain Fantastic is an important work which critiques our materialistic and technology-driven society, raising questions of authenticity, survival and what really living is. Definitely recommended.