Matt Ross, an actor known these days for his role as Gavin Belson in the TV show Silicon Valley, is also a surprisingly deft director and screenplay writer. In his second feature, he has created a populous, intelligent, and heartfelt film titled Captain Fantastic. While the film may be a conventional intergenerational family drama-comedy at its core, the timely political and thought-provoking philosophical sentiments as well as fantastic performances make this movie a stand-out.
Very convincing as a societal drop-out and father of six, Viggo Mortensen plays Ben Cash (irony?) who passionately rails against societal norms. What if you could reject all capitalism and organized religion to raise your kids in a remote forest, living off the land? This film imagines an idealized upbringing where kids are lovingly challenged to be critical thinkers, physically fit, and extremely self-sufficient. The patriarch is embodied by Mortensen as the father who years before retreated to the woods in the Northwest with his wife and six kids. His adored wife recently left their “paradise” for a hospital where she ultimately passed (only ever appearing in dream sequences). The family has the opportunity to contrast their remote lifestyle against modern society when they travel to her funeral in New Mexico.
Captain Fantastic is humorous, pointed, and touching. The father’s unconventional child-rearing values include celebrating Noam Chomsky’s birthday with uplifting song and gifts of hunting knives — in lieu of Christmas. Each child participates in hunting wild game for their meals. When on the road trip, one of his teen daughters freezes when attempting to shoot at domesticated sheep with her bow and arrow because “they’re just standing there.” Humorous scenes involve the blatant contrast of these feral kids with their suburban cousins, who play video games but can’t recite constitutional amendments. Well trained, the kids declare their grandparents’ house a “waste of resources and ill use of space.”
Ben Cash’s world is imperfect. He lies, steals, curses, and frequently risks his children’s lives, but his heart is full of love, idealism, and good intentions. You cheer for the family’s independence from our tempered, comfortable, accepting lives. The dialogue cracks with contemporary leftist (very left) political discourse from everyone in the family, even the littlest ones. Writer/director Matt Ross hopes the film to “spark a conversation.”
Captain Fantastic is playing in Los Angeles theaters throughout July. See the trailer and learn more about the film at captainfantasticmovie.com