Movie Review – Captain Fantastic
The film opens with a teen boy killing a deer. That teen’s father then smears the blood of that deer on the teen’s face, as part of some weird ritual that’s supposed to be a rite of passage or some expression of masculinity or adulthood. It’s perhaps no crazier than a Bar Mitzvah, but the ritual is never explained.
Given the father’s dismissal of religion, a weird ritual like this makes no sense. It seems like a silly way to introduce this family, which includes a father and six children who live in the woods.
Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises and The Lord of the Rings) stars as Ben, the father in question. There’s a scene of him training his children to fight. It doesn’t seem like he’s doing it for sport. He acts like it’s for defense, but there’s no explanation as from what they need defending. The reason Ben has his kids in the woods is isolation from society, so again the need for fight-training seems ever more pointless. Ben does have a bus that he uses to take into a nearby town. He eschews capitalism or consumerism, yet he still engages in it.
The question that Ben is never asked is how long does he think they can live in the woods. Ben has three sons and three daughters. Some of whom are teenagers. Eventually, they’re going to want to have sex. Eventually, they’re going to want to have families. Given that they’re the only people for hours, there’s no explanation as to how his children are supposed to have their own families and maintain this isolationist lifestyle, or just enjoy sex.
Maybe what Ben is doing is an extreme form of home-schooling. When the children become of age, meaning 18 or so, Ben is meant to encourage them to leave and possibly integrate into society. Yet, the movie, written and directed by Matt Ross, never gives a clue as to how that integration is supposed to work. An example is a scam that Ben has his children pull at a grocery store to steal food.
Another example is when Ben takes his children to visit a relative and her husband and children. The relative criticizes Ben that his kids aren’t getting a good education out in the woods. Ben proves that they have an incredible education. His youngest girl who can’t be older than six can recite and interpret the Bill of Rights line-by-line. Ross’ script though isn’t clever, as the follow-up that should have occurred didn’t. The follow-up should have been what’s the point of having such knowledge if she’s living in the woods and how does she plan to apply it. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t interested in that next step.
Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon and Robot & Frank) co-stars as Jack, the father to Ben’s wife and grandfather to his children. He mounts an interesting defense to Ben’s isolationist parenting. Yet, that’s all it is. It’s a defense and not an offense, so Jack’s role isn’t much challenged. We’re mainly led to believe that his way is the best way.
Instead of an examination of Ben’s choices and ideology, the movie is just a contrived road trip. It could have been a Henry David Thoreau or even Ed Begley Jr situation, but it isn’t.
Rated R for language and full-frontal male nudity from Mortensen.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.