Directed by Matt Ross (The Language of Love)
Written by Matt Ross
Cinematography Stephane Fontaine (Talk to Me, A Prophet)
Music by Alex Somers
Produced by Monica Levinson, Jamie Patricof, Shivani Rawat, Lynette Howell Taylor
Starring Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, History of Violence), Frank Langella (Dave, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), Kathryn Hahn (We’re the Millers, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), Steve Zahn (Happy, Texas, Sahara)
Ben Cash (Mortensen) is a man that loves his wife and children in a rather peculiar way. For the last ten years, the Cash family has resided in the woods of Washington state, living in seclusion, without the modern conveniences that we enjoy today. The movie begins with Bodevan, the eldest son, earning his rite of passage by slaying a deer with a knife. He is accompanied by Ben and his five siblings. Bodevan is now considered by Ben to be a man. When the family returns to their home with the trophy, we do not see Ben’s wife, but we learn shortly that she is sick, and hasn’t been with the family for the last three months.
In the meantime, Ben keeps the children on a rigorous schedule involving physical training, hunting, farming, and reading. Ben sees the outside world as a detriment and danger to his children’s development, so he and his wife have taken it upon themselves to rear and school their children away from worldly influences. This seems to work early in the film as the family is close. They perform all of their activities together, help one another with everything that they do, and keep no secrets. They are encouraged by Ben to participate in dialogue when disagreements arise, even with him. The children are challenged in critical thinking and are not allowed to say the word “interesting” when describing a book they have just read. They are forced to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions with any subject.
Not only were the children kept in seclusion, but they were taught that organized religion, government, and elitists were evil. Bodevan even describes himself as a “Maoist”, a flavor of Marxism. The children’s mother Leslie, was a self-described Buddhist, and didn’t see Buddhism as a religion, but rather a philosophy. She maintained that all organized religions were evil that preyed on the weak-minded. Ironically, these are views that the family is allowed to hold in a Constitutional Republic. Moving on, they did not observe Christmas as they saw it as a made up, pagan holiday, but rather celebrated Noam Chomsky’s birthday – a man that they saw that has contributed greatly to humanitarian efforts. Despite the family’s oddities and quirkiness, they loved each other deeply.
Unfortunately, Leslie commits suicide early in the film as she suffered greatly from bipolar disorder. Ben tried to help her sickness by moving to the woods, but she did not recover. This leaves the family devastated since the children didn’t realize the severity of their mother’s illness. Once Ben gets Leslie’s last will and testament, he can’t believe what her last wishes were. She did not want to be confined to the earth so she was to be cremated, but not kept in an urn. Nay, nay. The family was to find a high traffic, public location, and flush her remains down a toilet, while celebrating her life with dancing and music. Do you remember when I said “oddities and quirkiness?”
Captain Fantastic wasn’t a blockbuster hit upon its release, but it certainly wasn’t a flop. This movie relies on and revolves around Viggo Mortensen, whose performance is near to the level of Daniel Day Lewis’s on There Will Be Blood. Throughout the film, his attitude and demeanor go through the ringer as he faces his wife’s death, her father’s scorn, and his family’s ridicule. Watch the film. It’s worth seeing.
I’m going to give Captain Fantastic a 78%.