The title of this film might confuse some of you out there. It is in no way in any way a super hero film. Though some might find different characters in the film heroic. For instance, the father in this film is doing the best he can to raise his six children in the most pure way. They are loved, taught to think for themselves, survive off the land, and work as a unit. While others might see the choices he makes as akin to child abuse. Whichever side of the coin you find yourself on it is a film that is going to make you question how you live your life and the part you play in the modern world.
Somewhere in the forests of the Pacific Northwest Ben (Viggo Mortensen – A History of Violence, Witness) is raising his six kids in a very unorthodox way. The way he raises them is isolated from the rest of society, deep in the woods. These are kids who can hunt, carve things out of wood, are in top physical shape, and have been educated/homeschooled by reading all of the top books. This family has returned to the hunter and gatherer type of existence. Their idyllic subsistence is thrown for a loop when Ben finds out that his wife has died.
While at a small store selling the things he and the kids make he gets a phone call from his sister Harper (Kathryn Hahn – We Are the Millers, The Visit) telling him that mentally unwell wife (Trin Miller) has committed suicide. When he tells the kids Ben also has to tell them that they cannot attend their mother’s funeral service as her father (Frank Langella – from television’s The Americans) has made it clear he is not welcome.
Refusing to accept that they cannot say goodbye to their own mother, Bo (George MacKay – Defiance, Peter Pan – 2003), Kielyr (Samantha Isler – from television’s Sean Saves the World), Vespyr (Annalise Basso – appeared in episodes of Desperate Housewives and True Blood), Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton – Strangerland), Zaja (Shree Crooks – from television’s American Horror Story), and Nai (Charlie Shotwell – Man Down), convince their father to attend. No matter the risks. What happens once they arrive threatens them as a family and shakes Ben’s beliefs to the core.
A film like this makes you question your own values. Do I really need a new laptop? Is it truly better to be so dependent upon technology? Am I being too wasteful in my life? Is capitalism really what is best for the world? Am I just a sheep who thinks like the masses? Is there really a right way to live and raise kids? If you are completely honest with yourself then you probably won’t be too happy with your answers. Life can be lived in a simpler way that is better for the environment and all residents of the planet. And yet we still go on amassing wealth and things.
Director/screenwriter Matt Ross (an actor on the television series Silicon Valley) has constructed a film that prods us to think about our lives and the way we live it. His honest lens of what modern man has evolved into (the scene where Ben kids think everyone in the hospital they are in are sick because they are all overweight really hits home the point of how we live is killing us) makes us pull back in horror. It is not a pretty picture. We have become addicted to our phones, eat food that is processed and we have lost the appreciation of the simple things in life like reading a book or just sitting still.
Ross, and by extension Ben, does not have all the answers. His film wavers back and forth between what is the best way to raise kids. Some things that Ben does and believes in puts his kids’ lives at risk. There are no easy answers and Captain Fantastic doesn’t claim to have all of them. Our flaws as human beings are laid out for all to see here. No glossing over or prettying things up occurs. Being a member of a family is hard, but being a parent is the hardest job of them all.
Some nitpickers amongst you might claim that the ending is a little too Disney or mushy, but sometimes the good guy does win and there is a happy ending.