Captain Fantastic (2016)

Captain Fantastic
Director: Matt Ross
Writer: Matt Ross
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Trin Miller, Kathryn Hahn, Steve ZahnErin Moriarty, Missi Pyle, Frank Langella, Ann Dowd
Seen on: 31.8.2016

Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is trying to raise his six kids (George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell) away from capitalist society. They live in the woods, engage in rigorous physical exercise and study hard and for the most part, they are really happy. But Ben’s wife and the mother of the kids, Leslie (Trin Miller) isn’t with them: she had to go to the hospital to treat her mental illness. Unfortunately, though, instead of getting better, she commits suicide. Ben and the kids decide to go to the funeral, despite the fact that it means that they have to confront not only a world very different from their own, but also Leslie’s parents (Frank Langella, Ann Dowd) who are critical of Ben and Leslie’s lifestyle choices.

Captain Fantastic is an interesting film set to inspire political debates, but with a – to me – disappointing ending.


Ben and Leslie’s educative concept is shaped by contradictions: it’s a socialist concept without solidarity, it’s a leftist neoliberalism, it rails against patriarchy in the form of patriarch Ben, and against capitalist oppression but completely ignores feminism, racism or any other kind of intersectional oppression. As such, it’s an interesting thought experiment but one that really wasn’t thought through, mischaracterizing both the thing it turns against and the thing it turns toward.

This becomes also apparent in the treatment of Leslie’s mental illness (she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder): Ben has no problem saying that Leslie has a mental illness. He speaks frankly about this and her suicide to his children (and to his sister’s [Kathryn Hahn] children, much to her dismay), and characterizes mental illness as the same thing as physical illness. And yet he was convinced that a change in lifestyle would heal Leslie, as if moving to the woods could mend a broken bone or heal Malaria or whatever.

captainfantastic1But the fact alone that the film lends itself to discussing these ideas and questions – even if it doesn’t necessarily give a satisfactory answer to them – should be to its credit. We can all stand to question these things. Unfortunately, though, ultimately the film does end on somewhat of a wrong note for me. [SPOILERS] After Ben realizes how dangerous his choices are for his children, he leaves them with their grandparents, relinquishing his patriarchal hold over them – only to have them come back and willingly submit under his leadership once more. Said leadership is now softened, allowing more room for compromise, but that doesn’t necessarily make things better. Plus, Ben’s oldest, Bo, has fought his way into college behind Ben’s back and against his wishes. Bo really wanted to go, but by the end, he leaves the family to travel and college is never mentioned again. [/SPOILERS] Both of these things struck me as unsatisfactory, especially since throuth them any criticism of Ben is not just forgiven, it’s forgotten.

That being said, Captain Fantastic is not only a political statement, but an entertaining, often funny and touching film. The cast is great. With Mortensen that’s no surprise, but I was also very much taken with George MacKay’s performance. The film spends most time with Bo out of all the children, and his coming of age is funny and touching in large part due to MacKay’s sensitive portrayal.

captainfantastic2Summarizing: to employ the non-word (as the movie proclaims): interesting.

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