While parenthood may not be a walk in the park, Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic is one wild ride of a movie about the trials of fatherhood. Viggo Mortenson is incandescent as Ben Cash, father of six, with some pretty extreme ideas about how child rearing is done.
The film opens up with an intimate look at the Cash family routine. The father and his brood live in a camp in the woods, far from “civilisation”. They catch and hunt game, grow their own food, make weapons, and create beautiful handcrafted items. Ben is a tough teacher, pushing his kids, even the little ones, towards hardcore physical training, hand-to-hand combat and rock-climbing, even though these bring with them their risks and injuries. Evenings are spent around the campfire reading some pretty highbrow material, in analysis and discourse over the same, learning languages and making music together. It is implied that the children’s mother Leslie (Trin Miller) is away at a hospital, undergoing treatment for some kind of mental illness.
This carefully choreographed existence is thrown into disarray when Ben receives word of his wife’s death, and as a family, he and his children decide to attend the funeral, against the express wishes of Leslie’s father. This foray back into a world rife with consumerism sorely tests the doctrines Ben holds dear, and his control over his children, particularly when other family members fiercely object to his parenting skills.
Viewers are given an interesting contrast between the results of Ben’s way of parenting, and those of the average American parent, when we see Ben’s cousins challenge him and he picks up the gauntlet. His nephews are typical teenagers: burly, bordering on obese, obsessed with video games, with little or no knowledge about politics or any “adult” topics. Ben pits them both against one of his younger daughters Zaja (Shree Cooks), who, at eight years old, is built like an Olympic athlete, and is able to rattle off the American constitution by heart andoffer her opinions on it.
Having established the logic behind Ben’s extreme views, we then see the darker consequences of his actions, and when the children’s grandfather Jack (Frank Langella) accuses him of child abuse, one can’t completely blame the man. Will Ben lose his children? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.
Some pretty powerful writing makes this movie the perfect blend of dark and light, serious, yet self-deprecating, funny and sad at the same time. If you’re looking for a film to watch while you wait for tickets to see Logan, put Captain Fantastic on your list.