Before Captain Fantastic came along, the last superhero your favorite old sport had been excited about was: Captain Planet. Captain Fantastic is the superhero movie that I have been pining for. It is the superhero movie that the world needs. Batman doesn’t matter, Superman can’t care, Spiderman…seriously is he even relevant anymore? Who needs em’ when you have a Noam Chomsky loving, radical, revolutionary superdad played by Viggo Mortensen.
Set in the picturesque Pacific Northwest, the story focuses on Ben (Viggo) and his family of six children who are living life off the grid. Completely shut off from civilization, living on their own terms, free of capitalism and “the man”. Right from the opening scene the audience is immersed in the family’s anti-establishment lifestyle as well as Ben’s high expectations for his children. From the demanding physical training schedule to the challenging educational curriculum it is like the Swiss Family Robinson on steroids.
Often times resembling a wolf pack, the family does everything together. However, one person missing from the bunch seems to be: Mom. The children question Ben of her whereabouts and it is revealed that she was ill, forcing her to rejoin society in order to seek the proper care. After much persistence from the children Ben ventures into town to utilize a phone in order to find out the status of his wife. Upon speaking to his in-laws, it is revealed that she has committed suicide. Her family blames Ben for her demise and banishes him from the funeral.
Practicing a life of openness and honesty Ben informs the children of the details of their mother’s death and explains that they will be unable to go to the funeral as they are not welcome. Obviously the children are devastated. One of the children acts out and even blames Ben for their mother’s death. At first Ben attempts to go on with their lives as if nothing has changed and accepts that they are not able to attend his wife’s funeral. Nevertheless, it only takes the children’s reminder of “power to the people” to convince their dad that they shouldn’t allow someone to keep them away from seeing their mother for one last time. Aboard their trusty made over school bus Steve, the family traverses to New Mexico to attend the funeral.
Along the way the audience pays witness to some incredible scenes as the family discovers and tries to understand the rest of the world. Seriously, don’t leave your tissues at home like the Old Sport did…you are going to need them. Viggo clearly was made to play this role and shines as the character Ben. The children were also quite exceptional, however one of the stand out stars was definitely, George MacKay. George plays the eldest son, teenager (18ish). During the travels to the funeral viewers discover that even though Bo’s father has taught him how to be a survivalist and assisted him in becoming a scholarly intellectual; the kid has no idea how the world works. This is shown during an awkward yet charming scene he has with a young lady while they are staying overnight at a camping site. I feel we learn the most about this character and see the impact this lifestyle has had on him.
During this film, Writer/Director Matt Ross is definitely speaking to the state of society in which we find ourselves in presently. Especially, during the scene when the family visits their mother’s brother and his family. The brother, Dave played by Steve Zahn is living the “American Dream”; house in the suburbs, 2 kids, and all the comforts society has to offer. Ben and his family find the environment to be uncomfortable. Watching this scene, it made me realize just how ridiculous life has become: children playing with cell phones at the dinner table rather than having discussions with their parents, children racing to play video games rather than experiencing life, and parents providing their children with these material objects rather than interacting with them. Calling this way of life “normal”, Dave and his wife spend much of the time during Ben’s visit attempting to convince him that the children would be much safer and better off rejoining society and attending a regular school. Ben quickly proves this theory incorrect in another memorable scene of the film.
During the film, there are some great moments exhibiting Ben’s children’s advanced intelligence and the benefits of choosing to live a life in this way. However, not all the choices Ben has made regarding his family are beneficial. For example: Due to having little money, the family has to resort to stealing while on the road. There is also another scene in which one of the children is put in danger due to Ben acting more as a member of the pack rather than a father figure. Often times, I think Ben is confused about what his role should be to the children which causes his decisions to be made blindly.
When the family does finally arrive to the funeral they of course are not welcomed with open arms and literally stick out like a sore thumb in their retro flashy garb. At first Ben tries to be respectful of the family, but can’t help himself to interrupt the ceremony when they are going against his wife’s last wishes. This leads to the family being removed from the church and an interaction with Ben’s father in-law. Ben and the family are warned that if they try to interrupt the ceremony, Ben will be arrested. For a moment Ben contemplates crashing the services but quickly realizes that the loss to the children would be too great. In the end a family that was raised in wilderness finds one of their biggest challenges to be humanity.
The theme of this movie can’t be more relevant to what’s going on in today’s society and the class struggles that we face today. It really got me thinking: What’s important in life? Happiness, experiences, conversations, family, knowledge…or lots of stuff? Overall, I was extremely impressed with this film. Matt Ross is better known for being in front of the camera (watch The Aviator), but clearly after watching this film, this dude knows what he is doing. The acting and the message of the story were a breath of fresh air and I’m excited to see what this guy does next. Until then, I’ll be busy planning my party for Noam Chomsky Day.
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