Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and Leslie Cash (Trin Miller) have mostly lived off the grid with their children: Bo (George MacKay), Kielyr (Samantha Isler), Vespyr (Annalise Basso), Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), Zaja (Shree Crooks) and Nai (Charlie Shotwell) in a cabin in the mountains of Washington State. Their parents have passed their ideologies and lifestyle onto them, mainly socialism (in different forms) and survivalist ways. With socialism, Ben sees most of western society as fascist, most importantly, corporate America. Ben sees the world as a Jurassic park, and nobody is going to help you, except yourself. So, he and Leslie made sure the kids knew how to care of themselves in all aspects, through: physical training, first aid, finding/growing their own food and knowing how to hunt. The children are home-schooled and unregistered in the mainstream system. Beyond all this, Ben and Leslie made the decision to live out in the wild for Leslie’s health.
Previously a lawyer, she was diagnosed as bipolar. Even with this naturalist lifestyle, her condition gets worse. Ben is firmly against western medicine but he sends Leslie to a hospital, where she commits suicide. Leslie’s passing brings out a battle between Ben and Leslie’s father Jack (Frank Langella), a rich devout Christian, who believes Ben is to blame for her death and that what he’s doing to the kids is child abuse. Leslie was a Buddhist and wanted her send-off to be in the Buddhist way, a cremation. But Jack has other ideas. This is a story about a father trying to raise his children away from the corrupting nature of capitalism, as we see when the kids get their first taste of commercial America in all its up-jumped glory. But not everyone sees it that way. Just because it is participated in by the majority, that doesn’t necessarily make it right.
Viggo Mortensen is shaggy, rough and bearded for the most part, in a role that he was born to play. And I’m not just talking about Strider. He’s hellbent on raising his children on his own terms. Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic stars Viggo Mortensen (Lord Of The Rings) as one the 2010s most interesting and complex patriarchal characters. He’s a counter-culture father who says “fuck you” to capitalism and is going to stick it to the man, by not celebrating Christmas and replacing it with Noam Chomsky Day. He and his dearly departed said farewell to the big city to raise their family off the grid. The family drama gives us the pros and cons of unconventional parenting.
We start somewhere in a far-flung civilization where the only thing we see are trees for miles. Then we see Ben (Mortensen) looking a bit like a vagabond in full mountain-man beard, conducting a pagan-esque rites of passage ritual, looking like something out of the Wicker Man. Western society has condemned acts like these because they’re unrighteous. But these same people are the ones who let their kids go trick or treating on All Hallows Eve (Halloween). Christianity’s origins are in paganism but that’s not something you’ll hear being taught in RE class. Religion is one of many things that this movie picks at. This not a film for those who have a knack to get offended, most certainly with religion being one of those sacred topics you can’t say a bad word against.
Ben tells his kids that their mother is dead and the exact nature of her death, slitting her wrists in hospital. It’s that brutal honesty and directness that not just American parents would have problems with, but I think all parents would take quarrel with. It’s a directness that adults rarely display to their children. He treats his kids as young adults, not lying to them and disrespecting their intelligence which is a direct contrast to the conventional minds of their aunt and uncle (Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn). Their relatively simple-minded sons are addicted to their phones and video games. Ben’s kids know nothing of Addidas, Nike or Star Trek due to critical homeschooling and the highly prolific readings of Karl Marx and Noam Chomsky, in addition to epic physical activities like real rock climbing, and the science behind human reproduction. The youngest kid Nai, receives a present in the form of a book, called “The Joy Of Sex.” His face is priceless.
It was a joke present from dad and he then gets an actual hunting knife. This kid can’t be older than six years old. The way that they have been raised is admirable, taught that they’re tools not toys. Then there’s one of the other daughters who decides to skip ahead in her reading to a book called “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, which she analyzes with the perception of a university student. The moment for the children to go into the real world comes sooner than expect for Ben, causing many tense moments. The challenge is shown aptly when Bo tells his dad that he’s received unconditional offers for universities like Princeton, Brown, Harvard and Yale. That goes to show that Ben and Leslie’s parenting is not as bogus as many looking in begin say. When Bo meets a pretty blonde at an overnight campsite, he drops the books to follow lust, and embarrasses himself when he proposes after the first kiss. It’s things like this that show they’re prepared for everything except the world outside.
Ben and his family are often described as hippies because they don’t fit into the majority, which is evident when Mortensen steps of the bus naked, much to the dismay of an elderly couple who were casually walking by. Grandfather Jack (Frank Langella) plays the antagonist of the film. But at the same time he’s not. He’s a man in the abyss of grief who wants the best for his grandchildren and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it. But the more I see of Jack, the more I understand what he wants. He’s not a bad guy. Ben and Jack come to an understanding eventually, but their beginnings are more than unpleasant. That being said, who is he to say how someone should raise their kids? He’s constantly on his moral highhorse, and that’s bothers me. He likes the sound of his own voice, and everyone else’s opinion is wrong. In conjunction to wanting the best for them, Jack is highly motivated in giving his daughter a proper Christian funeral.
She was Buddhist. He’s ignoring her last wishes and exerting his grand patriarchal control over her free-spirited persona. Quite frankly, he’s 20% good guy and 80% asshole. Casting Mortensen was a great choice and he completely owned the role. He taps into his spiritual freeness, depicted the best when he’s interacting with his kids. But he’s most wonderful to watch when he’s defending his parenting to others, who think it’s okay to lie to their kids by insulting their intelligence. His kids aren’t his equals. They are his offspring but he treats them as human beings and not like they’re inferior. He treats them like young adults. He swears in front of them and they swear at him, amidst the intellectual conversation about Chomsky, Marx and various other things that make me feel like I’m back in my A Level Communication And Culture class.
Mortensen plays this pragmatic, honest and loving father to absolute perfection, complimented by his young group of child stars, opposite Frank Langella as Granddad Jack and I wouldn’t be suprised if Mortensen gets a nod in acting come Oscar season. This film is a must watch for college and university students studying things like Communication & Culture, Sociology and even Psychology. But it’s also rites of passage for young adults. This movie will be enjoyed by film fans and film casuals alike, despite the lack of political correctness, nihilistic ideals, people’s power and stick it to the man ideologies.