Captain Fantastic, directed by Matt Ross, is an emotional and deeply personal feeling film, but it is also a film with some very strong beliefs about the structure of the world and it isn’t afraid to push them on you. I found this film to be refreshingly different and I was always happy to get more of it. Captain Fantastic isn’t without flaws but it is, in the end, a film with a meaningful core to it. So let’s get the review underway and see what it has to offer.
In Captain Fantastic, Ben – played by Viggo Mortensen – lives a reclusive life in the woods with his 6 children; their life is one of routine, vigorous training and extensive education. However their lives are all forever changed when their mother (who has been away in the hospital for 3 months very ill) passes away. Their mother’s family doesn’t want them at the funeral, but nothing will stop them from saying goodbye to their mum, and making sure her last wishes are respected.
So certainly something that ‘Captain Fantastic’ isn’t afraid to do is approach its way of thinking in an upfront and honest way. The characters in the film have some very different views on the normality of everyday society. Now while I personally didn’t agree with a few of the opinions put forth in the film, I did really appreciate that the film wasn’t one-sided in its approach. Both sides of the many arguments get a fair enough chance to put their perspective across and the film also doesn’t definitively come down on one being better than the other. I feel if it had, well then this would be a much different experience – less of an involving watch and more of an overbearing education.
However what I do feel this focus on lifestyle and the structure of the American way does impact is the characters in the film; primarily the children. There was too much of a shift away from them, I would have liked to have spent more time seeing them develop over the course of the film. It resulted in me never really feeling like I got to know them all well enough – I certainly got to understand one or two, but not all of them.
Who I did feel that I got to understand was Ben (Viggo Mortensen); a man who very much believes in what he is doing and how he is going about doing it. Yes he was stubborn in some ways, but I also found myself unable to argue with the results. This created a film that challenged me on an intellectual level. While I was engaging with the heart of the film (which I’ll touch upon in a moment) I was also taking the time to mull over some of the ideals that were being presented to me – and again I didn’t feel like the film was telling me one way was definitely better than the other, I was left to come to my own conclusion on it all.
But the thing that is certainly the underlying driving force of the film is the emotionally potent story. It is something that is easy to grasp and also easy to relate with. These children have just lost their mother, and now along with their grieving father, will go on a journey together. I don’t’ think it’s possible to not get sucked in by just how heart breaking and meaningful the film is; I know I certainly was. From the scenes that are of course sensitive, comes some truly great performances by all of the cast. The moment when the children are told about their mothers passing, is one that I myself wasn’t ready for, and it certainly kicked me in the emotional gut. This is a family that feels genuine and there is a connectivity and caring between them all that helps build them up as people. That believability plays a huge part in making this film all the more poignant.
That connectivity between the family also shines through in the smaller moments. The honesty an openness that happens in scenes goes towards creating light-hearted and potent moments. To see a father be so authentic with his children, no matter the situation or topic, is something that endears you to the characters and makes for such an enjoyable watching experience.
The last point I want to touch upon relates to a relieving moment in the film for me. That moment was when I realised that the film wasn’t going to belabour on what would have been an easy plot point. I’m referring to the film not ever relying on the easy joke of the children being confused or curious about things that are normal to people in everyday society, but not normal to them. I was confident that the film was going to play out the fun at first but soon to be tedious plot angle. So when it didn’t and instead stuck to focusing on what were already the integral elements it had set-up, I couldn’t have been happier and more surprised. By not taking the obvious (easy) path, the film certainly got my respect and appreciation.
Captain Fantastic is one of those films that is certainly going to tug on your heart-strings, but what it never does, is make it feel cheap. There is genuineness to the film, and when the credits rolled, there was a rewarding feeling to it all – a simple but deserved smile occurred.
I am more than happy to recommend ‘Captain Fantastic’; a film that achieves something meaningful, while also causing you to think.
Do you have any thoughts on ‘Captain Fantastic’ or this review, if you do, please leave them in the comments down below, I’d love to hear them. If you liked what you read here, perhaps give this blog a follow or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle. Thank you for taking the time to read this, I appreciate it so much, truly.