The simple idea of living in a world of complete and utter majesty is overwhelming to say the least. In his mainstream directorial debut, Captain Fantastic, Matt Ross creates that feeling, saving a, otherwise paint by numbers film and giving it more clout than it honestly deserves. There is a beautiful film hidden within the monotony of the whitewashed world, spotlighting an interesting choice by the writer/director.
A father does his best to raise his children in a post-society world where he and his wife have created an environment in which they live by the word of historical figures such as Noam Chomsky. In what almost looks like a commune, the family lives together, works together, hunts together, and stays away from the dangers of the outside world. Titular character ‘Captain Fantastic’ or Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is tough on his kids. He works them until both their bodies and minds can take no more, and then asks them to give another 100%. As a result, the children are well-rounded, intelligent little buggers, solely lacking the social skills they’d need to fit in with the outside world.
After a short introduction into their lives, we learn that Ben’s wife Leslie has been sick. The children begin prodding him for answers, leading to a quick excursion down to the local town where he learns she has killed herself. After push back from the kids coupled with the threat of Leslie’s father having him arrested if he dares attend his wife’s funeral, Ben decides to make the journey to retrieve his wife’s body and expose the kids to a world they know nothing about.
On the whole there’s not much to the film. The storyline is predictable, barely plot driven, and watered down with time constraints. However, the acting is superb. Viggo does his usual Viggo thing, getting in touch with the character, but it’s the kids (particularly George MacKay’s ‘Bo’), that really embody the feeling of what the film was trying to portray. They’ve lost their mother, and are learning to cope with the outside world for the first time. It shows in their every movement and action- they genuinely portray pain.
The whitewash comes as no surprise considering the film’s subject and the genre, however it was interesting that the director didn’t use the fact that they were traveling across America to insert a wide variety of people to showcase what the children have been missing in their secluded lives. There are a few stand out moments, one coming from MacKay where he proposes to the first girl ever nice enough to touch his penis. The interaction with a dreaming Ben and fictitious Leslie is nice, she calls him ‘Captain Fantastic’ as he quietly mourns her physical presence.
The handling of Leslie’s mental illness is done with grace, and even as we watch the downfall and subsequent triumph that we knew would come all along, you’re not completely disappointed with yourself for sitting through two hours of Matt Ross begging you to like his work. The feelings, emotions, and essence of what he was trying to do are all there; hopefully in his next round he’ll learn from his mistakes and present us with a story that’s not so by the book it would bore the characters he created were they able to look outside of their world.
Captain Fantastic is now playing in theaters everywhere.