Review: “Captain Fantastic” Should Be Mandatory Viewing For Everyone





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Posted November 18, 2016 by

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Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and his late wife decided to raise their six children in the wilderness, far away from the pressures of society and all of the things that come with it that promise to distract from truly learning the ways of life. While other kids are going to school and listening to current popular music, Ben’s kids are learning to hunt, fight, and creating their own music after a night of reading up on classic literature and philosophy. When Ben’s wife, who has dealt with a lifetime of mental illness, takes her own life, he is forced to take his kids into the real world where the reality he has built for them is threatened almost immediately. “Captain Fantastic” shows that no matter how you choose to raise your children, one extreme is no better than the other but all you can do is what you think is right.

Everyone in this movie, down to the youngest children played by Charlie Shotwell and Shree Crooks, deliver strong performances that make you believe this family is real. Even Viggo Mortensen who has been in many high profile films is able to shake off the popularity of his past and become a character that felt unique and authentic to me. It’s one of those films where I caught myself wishing I wasn’t watching a movie but a documentary instead. I want to believe that there are people that live this way, that love this way, and that strive for a higher consciousness while on this earth. A lot of that has to do with the way the film was shot; the independent nature of the film lends a sort of graininess to the look of the movie that keeps it from appearing too glossed over and unrealistic. While watching it I felt like I was right there with the family as they covered themselves in mud and tracked down their dinner for the night. I could smell the smoke from the campfire they were sitting around. While the performances were fantastic, they were brilliantly supported by Matt Ross’s direction and writing. Already known as a great character actor, Ross (American Psycho, Silicon Valley) proves that he also has an eye for storytelling and world building and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

I loved the difference between the way Ben raised his children and the way his sister and her husband, Harper and Dave (Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn), raised theirs and how Ben’s ideals and honesty threatened the bubble his sister was putting around her own kids. There’s a powerful scene at the dinner table where Ben opens up about what happened to his wife while Harper and Dave try to apologize for what happened and also be vague about how she died. Ben’s children already know the truth so he makes it known to Harper’s children as well; not wanting to lie to them or protect them from something they’ll most likely have to deal with at some point in their lives. While Harper and Dave are completely offended that Ben would be that brutally honest about the situation and tell their children the grim reality of what happened, the very next scene shows they have no problem letting their boys distract themselves with violent video games. It’s this weird line where one thing is completely okay and the other is horrific and unspeakable, but once again goes back to there’s no right way to do everything, you just do what you think is best.

In the end, no one’s philosophy is condemned. No one’s way of life is judged. We are just given these characters that feel entirely real and it’s up to us to make up our minds on how we feel about what we watched. One thing is for certain about this movie; it will start a conversation. I think it should be mandatory viewing for everyone. By the time the credits rolled, I found myself agreeing with certain things from all the characters I watched but not everything. One extreme is no better than the other, but somewhere there is a happy medium that I can’t help but think about every single minute now.





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