Captain Fantastic: A father living in the forests of the Pacific Northwest with his six young kids tries to assimilate back into society.
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Title “Captain Fantastic”
Released “29 Jul 2016”
Runtime “118 min”
Genre “Comedy, Drama”
Director “Matt Ross”
Writer “Matt Ross”
Actors “Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso”
Plot “In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.”
Language “English, Esperanto”
Awards “Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 14 wins & 40 nominations.”
Opening Weekend: $93,824 (USA) (8 July 2016)
Gross: $5,875,006 (USA) (21 October 2016)
Ben and Leslie Cash have long lived largely off the grid with their offspring – Bodevan, Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai – in a cabin in the mountains of Washington state. The parents have passed their ideals to their children, namely socialism (in its various forms) and survivalism. With the former, Ben considers most of western society as being fascist, especially corporate America. With the latter, he figures that no one will or should be there for you, so you better learn how to take care of yourself in all its aspects. As such, the children have been subject to vigorous physical training, know how to deal with minor bumps, bruises, cuts, sprains and even fractures, and know how to hunt, forage and grow their own food. The children are also non-registered home schooled, meaning that they have no official academic records. Ben and Leslie have tried to make the children critical thinkers, however within the context of their ideals. Beyond these issues, Ben and Leslie made the decision to live this lifestyle for Leslie’s health. Formerly a lawyer, Leslie was diagnosed as bipolar. Ben figures that this disorder started with her post-partum depression with Bo. Even with this lifestyle, Leslie’s condition has become progressively worse. Despite not believing in western medicine, Ben, to deal with the illness, has sent Leslie to hospital, one close to Ben’s sister, Harper, in Sacramento so that there can be family close by. While in hospital, Leslie is able to commit suicide. Beyond the collective grief, Leslie’s act brings out a battle between Ben, and Leslie’s father, Jack Bertrang, a wealthy Christian, who not only blames Ben for what happened to Leslie, but believes what he is doing to the children can legally be considered abuse. To be held in their church in New Mexico, Jack takes over the funeral arrangements to his and his complacent wife Abby’s Christian morals, against what Ben knows was Leslie’s wishes, she who believed in Buddhist philosophies. Although Jack threatens to call the police if Ben shows up to the funeral, he and the children believe it is the latest of their missions to rescue Leslie to honor her last wishes to be cremated as per Buddhist philosophies. This mission not only may bring the divide between Jack and Ben to a head, but may also bring out some long seated issues within the Cash children as they are exposed to commercial America in all its good and bad, and as Bo grows into manhood, he who may have his own ideas of what he should do with the next phase of his life.
– Written by Huggo
I watched this in Sundance earlier in the year, and was captivated by the storytelling, acting and cinematography.
The story follows Ben (Viggo Mortensen), a father of six, living deep in the forests of the pacific northwest, far from modern life. All six children, from seventeen year old Bodevan to seven year old Nai are fluent in philosophy, history and quantum theory (!), and can hunt and fend for themselves in the wilderness. At least that is until the suicide of their mother forces the family to clash with modern society, and then Ben realizes that he has in fact not prepared his children at all for what lies outside their forest. Bodevan, for example, accepted in a swarm of the top colleges and adept enough to kill a deer single-handedly, cannot bring himself to talk to a girl without immediately proposing to her.
The family’s ideals further come under stress when his late wife’s father (Frank Langella) who hates the life Ben has created for his family comes into the picture, and forbids Ben from attending his wife’s funeral, threatening him with arrest. In what could have easily turned into a one-dimensional harsh/rich character, Frank Langella also projects empathy and deep grief over his daughter’s death. When Ben and his children visit his sister’s much more conventional family, and her smart phone-obsessed children, Ben criticizes their upbringing, only to have his sister bring his own parenting skills into question. Director Matt Ross skillfully presents both sides here without picking favorites.
Acting-wise the film is captivating, with Mortensen fitting the renaissance profile of Ben like a glove. He projects all the arrogance and hardheadedness of Ben together with his warmth, adoration for his children, and respect for his wife’s wishes with grace and subtlety in one of the most seemingly effortless performances I have seen. He is also surrounded by an excellent supporting cast, from the children to his in-laws and sister.
In summary, Captain Fantastic is a rare case where family dynamics, with their controversies and dilemmas are not oversimplified to a preaching doctrine in the finale; the film allows the viewer the space to find their own balance on what it means to raise a child.
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