A parent raises his children outside the bounds of society until a tragic event forces him to return to the world he left behind in Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic.
This film could have gone in so many different directions in terms of how I’d react to it. At its core it’s a film that celebrates Ben’s (Viggo Mortensen) choice to raise his children completely outside of the accepted norm. As such it could easily have come across as preachy by telling audiences that his way of living is better than ours and we should feel bad for doing so.
Fortunately it does something a lot smarter than that and simply immerses us in Ben’s way of life. A lot of time is devoted to simply showing how he and his kids live with no point being made either way. We as an audience are left to make up our own minds about it and that’s something I found really refreshing. Of course he feels that his way of life is better otherwise he wouldn’t be living that way but we’re left to consider it for ourselves.
The way the film presents Ben’s life with his kids is fascinating. We see them hunt, eat, exercise, sing songs around the campfire and further their education. Ben is a well developed character who encourages as well as disciplines his children throughout so it’s clear that it has taken a lot of work to get them to this stage.
Viggo Mortensen plays the part with a great deal of sincerity that helps his ideas not seem like preaching. He’s a measured and tolerant man who just wants the best for his kids and is fully confident that he has provided this to him. The sincerity of his performance is key here and it creates some memorable scenes where he shows a complete lack of shame about the way he lives and his values.
His children are featured often and well developed enough in terms of selling the situation but most of them don’t have any character arcs as such. The closest is the oldest son Bo (George MacKay) who is curious about the world outside what his father has taught him and comes into conflict with him about wanting to pursue his own interests. It’s well done and there’s a good connection between MacKay and Mortensen that makes it feel believable. The rest of the kids are well acted and contribute as needed.
I found the film most interesting when it was exploring Ben’s values and how they relate to society as we would understand it. Again, it doesn’t come across as preachy but the film works hard to present Ben’s way of life as a suitable alternative. Examples of what kids are taught in school not sinking in and the way young people spend most of their time looking at screens rather than the world around them ring disturbingly true as well as the reliance on medication and eating food that does us no good. It’s all hard to disagree with but Ben remains tolerant of the way others choose to live their lives because he wants to be treated in the same way. It’s a really sophisticated handling of this comparison and the whole thing really me think.
The film falters slightly in the handling of the main antagonist, Ben’s father in law Jack (Frank Langella). He arrives far too late in the story to make the necessary impact and the whole thing moves along a little too quickly following his introduction and has a resolution that doesn’t quite feel earned. Langella is good enough in the role and the scenes he shares with Mortensen as well as the actors playing his grandchildren are memorable but his role in the film didn’t quite add up for me.
A really interesting film that presents an alternative life choice in a mature and sophisticated way without ever coming across as preachy. Viggo Mortensen’s performance is excellent and the actors playing his children do a great job too. The only place the film falters is in the presentation of Ben’s main obstacle but it’s a minor criticism and doesn’t detract from something that really made me think.
- Viggo Mortensen’s sincere performance
- a mature exploration of a complex idea
- really interesting social commentary
- the main obstacle to Ben not working as well as it could