An emotional roller-coaster ride of a film, “Captain Fantastic” seres your heart and brings to question how we attempt to raise our children. Vigo Mortensen is a knock-out as the “Last Great American Man” who seeks to raise his six children in the evergreen peaks of the Pacific Northwest. Rigorously teaching his children how to be self-sufficient and to follow the humanitarian values of Noam Chomsky, Vigo shines. The film is a love story. Imagine the grueling work of growing, canning, instructing and constructioning an “off the grid” life with a bi-polar wife ! This backstory is only glimpsed at with the insertion of two flashbacks, both intimate and joyful.
The story arch is basically that mother and wife has been in the hospital for over three months and Dad is coping. We get to see all six children thriving, but missing their mom. A phone call to his sister, Harper ( Kathryn Hahn), informs Ben (Vigo) that his wife has finally done it, slashed her wrists. The affecting image of Ben under a manificent waterfall being pounded with torrents moves us to tears.
The rest of the film shows the change that this suicide brings. Frank Langella, as the grieving father, blames Ben for everything and bans him from the traditional funeral he and his wife have planned in New Mexico for their only child. Boarding the reconstituted school-bus-home, the family goes “to free” their mother and follow her last will and testament wishes. These include a Buddhist cremation and flushing her ashes down a toilet. Quirky, yes, but empowering for her tribe, also. They chant: “we are strong, and we are ready. Let’s rescue Mom.” We root for them, feel for their grandparents, and question our culture as they glide by fast food restaurants, hippo like patrons and meet cousins who think the “Bill of Rights” must be paid.
The negatives of Ben’s homeschooling for me were the grocery store stealing and the mockery of Evangelical hymns and thought. I adored his ” use your words” and his prodding that ” interesting” is a non-word. His children are allowed to rebel if they can make their case. Discourse and language, both foreign and bookish rule. Not all home-school deans have this knowledge base.
When Ben and Harper argue about endangering the children versus coddling them, Ben seems sincere in his apology ” Sorry, for not respecting how you do things in your home.” X-boxes versus wine can be debated, but middle-finger- thrusting cousins versus Ivy League placements makes a strong case for rethinking our parenting style. Ben’s children are amazing. Nicholas Hamilton as family rebel, Rellian, and Ben’s eldest, Bodevan ( George McKay) are memorable.
As the custody battle ensues, viewers will be moved back and forth, Ben will doubt himself, his mother-in-law will assuage Ben’s guilt, and the children will be on their way to being ” philosopher-kings” , who know love!
When Ben says, “If you stay with me, I’ll ruin your lives.”, and Rellian pops back with Noam Chomsky’s ” If you assume that there is no hope, then there is no hope; and you can not contribute to making a better world.” , we are touched. The romance of the left is here , but so is the romance of the family, and the romance of two people vowing to love each other.
Mark Ross, an actor himself, wrote and directed ” Captain Fantastic”. It must have been a labor of love. Surely, the shroud-covered Leslie can hear her husband’s whispers: ” I’m yours. My handshake is mine, my mouth is mine, but I’m yours.”
I loved this film, its title, and its quiet ending.