Captain Fantastic: Cashing in a consumerist world

September 7, 2016


Captain Fantastic (M)

Rating: 3.5 / 5


Have you ever thought about living off the grid? Just going out into the wilderness and building a life without technology, commercialism or authority figures? To live life the way you want?

For Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) that is the dream he’s building. For a decade, he has lived in the wilds of Colorado with his wife and their six children. But this is no vacation. Ben runs his children, who range from seven to 18, through daily ‘training’ of survival skills, hunting, physical training and combat drills. 

Then at night, they read books about things like philosophy and physics, play music together, and have engaging discussions about what they believe in. Ben is also very honest with his children, answering questions plainly about things like sex, death and the harshness of the world that would terrify most other parents. Ben treats his children as equals; intelligent, capable and self-reliant.

However, when Ben’s wife suddenly dies, the whole family sets off on a road trip to New Mexico so that her last wishes are respected. 

As the family travels through the ‘real world’, the stark contrast between Ben’s way of life and the way society expects them to live becomes clear. 

This journey makes Ben reassess how he is raising his children. Is he preparing them for the world or sheltering them from it? Is it better for them to be intelligent and free-thinking or socially aware and engaged in community? Is there a middle ground?

In Captain Fantastic’s early scenes, you can actually see the appeal of Ben’s parenting style. His kids are far more intelligent than many other children their age. One scene in the film shows two regular teenage boys unable to describe what the Bill of Rights is, while Ben’s seven-year- old can recite it from memory and address how it impacts the notion of freedom. 

These kids don’t just learn by rote; they think about what they learn and can clearly articulate their ideas. But there’s a cost. Ben has passed on his disrespect for ‘normal’ people, and the kids struggle in the social world.

Ben and his children are at the absolute centre of this film. The kids are brilliantly cast, and feel like well-rounded characters, and their performances beautifully complement Mortensen’s uniformly strong performance. 

Writer/director Matt Ross drew from his own childhood experience and living in communes when writing the film. This experience shines through in his direction of all the Cash children, but especially the eldest son Bo (George MacKay) and his desire to go to college and grow into an adult life.

However, the ending feels a bit confused and not really solid on the point it was trying to make. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’re supposed to think about this story way after the credits roll, and discuss it further with each other to get a better understanding of the world and our place in it. 


Highlight: Solid script and great performances 

Red flag: Course language, brief scene of male nudity


Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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