Matt Ross’ second feature Captain Fantastic already premiered at Sundance earlier this year and secured itself a slot in the Un Certain Regard section in Cannes, where Matt Ross received the award for Best Director. It stars Viggo Mortensen as a counter-culture dad who raises his six children off the grid in the woodlands somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, until his wife’s death forces the family to assimilate themselves back into the capitalistic society he despises. It is interesting to note that Ross shares some of the experiences depicted in the story as he was brought up in communes in Northern California and Oregon since his mother was interested in alternative living situations.
Ross has written and executed a wonderful film that has everything you are looking for: it is sophisticated, raises the right questions and features bittersweet and emotional scenes as well as funny, yet authentic moments.
For around ten years, Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Leslie Cash (Trin Miller) have lived in a self-built compound in a forest in Washington with their six kids where they almost completely rely on themselves. They go hunting and grow their own vegetables and provide their children with an impressive intellectual and physical education in order to survive in the deep forest. They live a survivalist lifestyle without advanced technology and are most of the time disconnected from the outside world, unless they have to run some necessary and important errands. The beginning of the film embraces the family’s lifestyle far from civilization and the audience is introduced to their own rituals and observes them enjoying themselves sitting at a campfire, reading books and playing music. However, this happiness is not supposed to last for too long since the family is informed about Leslie’s death – she had been suffering from a mental illness during the last few months and had to be institutionalized.
Since Ben’s father-in-law Jack (Frank Langella) blames Ben for the death of his only daughter by taking her away into the forest and leading a lonely life in the wilderness, Ben is not welcome at the funeral. However, the Cash family decides that they want to attend the funeral no matter what and travel half-way across the country from Washington all the way to New Mexico to say their goodbyes. On their roadtrip across the United States the children are exposed to the unknown consumerist way of life that includes fast food and electronic entertainment. The culture clash is dealt with in a very charming and humorous way. The kids are curious about the outside world and their father is trying to prevent them from being seduced by the system he loathes. Instead of celebrating the consumerist holiday of Christmas for example, the Cash family celebrates Noam Chomsky Day to honor the scientist and philosopher – a real person as Ben points it out to his children.
Two worlds collide when the family finally reaches New Mexico and the kids meet their grandparents Jack and Abigail (Ann Dowd) for the first time.They are conservative and very wealthy and therefore Ben’s capitalist nightmare. While Captain Fantastic is celebrating the counter-culture represented by Ben and his children, it is obvious that it also questions several choices the family made in raising the kids. Besides being extremely educated, whether it is regarding communist theories or being able to quote the Constitution of the United States, they also lack social skills especially in terms of communicating with other kids their age. This turns out to be a major problem for the seventeen year old Bo (George MacKay) when he is meeting a girl for the first time in his life. While he has already become a man earlier in the film through a ritual in the forest, he has still some way to go to find himself and become a man in the actual world. It comes as a shock to Ben when he learns that Bo had secretly applied for universities all over the country and had been accepted to all of them. It’s time for the young man to make a possibly life-changing decision despite his father’s beliefs.
The cinematography by Stephane Fontaine […] is outstanding not only in creating and therefore contrasting the two different worlds but mostly in capturing the beauty of it.
Captain Fantastic is such a beautiful, life-affirming film about a family with strong bonds, living their individualistic and inspiring, yet sometimes quite bizarre way of life. Ross has written and executed a wonderful film that has everything you are looking for: it is sophisticated, raises the right questions and features bittersweet and emotional scenes as well as funny, yet authentic moments. The cinematography by Stephane Fontaine – known for Jacques Audiard’s The Prophet and Rust and Bone – is outstanding not only in creating and therefore contrasting the two different worlds but mostly in capturing the beauty of it.
Captain Fantastic is a beautiful, life-affirming, bittersweet yet slightly bizzare film with an intelligent script and amazing cinematography.