“What we’ve created here maybe unique in all of human existence. We’ve created a paradise.”
There is something utterly profound, gloriously intelligent and immensely moving about ‘Captain Fantastic’. It is a meditation on grief and loss without melodrama along with being a reflection on childhood and fatherhood without judgment. Most importantly it shows the hope and happiness that can still be present even during our darkest moments.
Ben (Mortensen) and Leslie (Miller) have lived off the grid for most of their eldest child, 18 year-old Bo’s (MacKay) life. It’s the only life he and his five siblings have ever known – they are versed in six languages and are fiercely intelligent yet know little about the world outside their home. When Leslie dies far away from home Ben and his brood decide to travel to her funeral, even though he is fully aware of the cold reception he will receive from Leslie’s bereaved parents and his sister’s family. A series of events along the way will force Ben to question whether he is enabling or endangering his beloved children.
There are many things about ‘Captain Fantastic’ that make it both different yet familiar. It shares much of its tone with films such as ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Kings of Summer‘. Whilst about family, like the former, it has the prevailing sense of discovery and the inevitability of the metaphoric end of summer. It manages to be winningly funny, warm and occasionally heart-wrenchingly sad.Sniffles could be heard throughout the screen I was in, with myself being responsible for a fair few. There’s also a prevailing sense of intelligence, much of it off-beat and all of it remarkably well-informed. Knowing who Noam Chomsky is may limit the effect of some of the gags but anyone who has ever been a teeanger will get most of them.
It’s in this area where much of the film’s warmth comes from. Ben’s relationship with his children is the literal centre of the film, particularly that with his eldest child. At the start of the film Bo successfully hunts down a deer in front of his entire family and is ceremonially declared a man by his father – though it is not the trigger of the movie, the death of their mother is, Bo ‘s succession into adulthood will cause Ben to reexamine the choices he and Leslie made – are his ‘philosopher kings’ equipped for encounters with the rest of the world?
Although the script, dialogue and direction of the film are all supreme in uniting to create such endearing rumination it is the performances that really place this film into the status of truly remarkable. No matter how eccentric we may consider the characters the performances of the cast root them in truth and believability. Mortensen is wonderous as the cerebral family figurehead whose stubbornness about society and his values may just be pushing those away who he cares about the most. Much of his dialogue, be that his intellectual rebuttals targeted at those who try to question his way of life or his teaching of his children, is extraordinaily written. Although the entire cast shine so brightly within this story a true honourable mention has to go George MacKay who is truly one of our brightest up-and-coming talents. He brings Bo to life and simultaneously makes issues which would/should be unique to his character seem utterly universal.
Both characters embody the film’s true message – that with an open mind and an open heart we can be receptive of true beauty.
Dir: Matt Ross
Country:USA Year: 2016 Run time: 118 minutes
Captain Fantastic opened in UK cinemas on September 9th.