Captain Fantastic (2016)
I thought I’d seen this. I hadn’t. I’m not sure how I was mistaken, I can’t imagine what I’d mix this up with. Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and his large family live off grid, seriously off grid. Out in the wilderness, catching food, learning to fight. Slightly odd to our eyes, or mine at least. Throw in Ben’s insistence on the children’s education, reading books about quantum mechanics and we’ve clearly got an usual family dynamic. They’re like liberal arts intellectuals that can skin a deer. A happy bunch, it’s hard not to admire them. They seem self sufficient, but you know a spanner is coming. As we join them, Mum has been gone 3 months and counting and trips into the nearby town to collect post, offer up disruptions that can’t be washed away in a waterfall... pretty cool way to have a shower though. One such trip into town brings utter devastation, both hidden and obvious and threatens to change their world forever. It’s news of their mothers death that kick starts a chain of events that forces them to interact with a society they’ve grown up to despise. The loss of their mother adds an obvious strain and some the tough love reality gets a bit tough to watch at times, as Ben is very direct in his explanations of the world to his children. This is compounded too be distant in the ranks. Young Rellian is becoming disillusioned with his enforced slightly hippy exhistence. He’s questioning. Wiser than he first appears and his added disruption will fuel the fire, but ultimately quench it too. There’s a definite thread of who is really teaching who. It’s funny too though, with Ben’s matter of fact explanation of the birds and the bees and the child’s observations regarding fat Americans. The children are well behaved through, “We don’t make fun of people... except Christians”. It takes on a road movie feel as they travel for the funeral. This throws up multiple interactions that test their family bond and the children’s understanding of the world. It’s not just the children at odds with the world though, they’re open, excepting, adaptable. It’s Ben who struggles, prejudiced against society and his father-in-law, the excellent Frank Langella and his plan for his daughters burial, against her Buddhist wishes. Here is where the wheels come off. As Ben, used to being in control, finds himself powerless as events transpire against him. There’s a rather brutal twist I wasn’t expecting, as Ben admits defeat. For all the right reasons, but it grates, even with the gorgeous Sigur Ros soundtrack. If I have a reservation, it’s this, but that’s really nit picking as there’s very little here to dislike. Not all the children get centre stage, in fact I forgot to do a head count as to how many there are, let’s say half a dozen, that’s close enough. George MacKay as Bodevan (they all have unique names) is front and centre through. The eldest son, he finds himself courted by some of the top universities in the country, but for all his intelligence and free thinking, is he suited for the transition to structured society. It’s the ticking bomb for much of the film as he hides his academic success from his father, knowing he would disapprove of such institutions. A film like this I guess demands a finale and it indulges, with some inevitable graveyard liberation and a touching goodbye to their wife and mother. Complete with the most bizarre rendition of Sweet Child O’Mine I’ve ever heard. It’s a satisfying end to an unusual film. A film that’s gentle and severe in equal measure. Intriguing and entertaining. Maybe even fantastic.