By Kathryn Whitney Boole
“Captain Fantastic” embraces a subject that is voluminous in concept, yet uses the medium of movies to make a beautiful statement within the space of two hours that will inspire you to contemplate your philosophy of life in a whole different light, regardless of your political and religious persuasions. While you watch, your beliefs and ideas of how the world works are gradually suspended and you begin to think independently of the framework that has surrounded you — to question an existence you may take for granted.
You might think such a work would have to be a science fiction story. It’s not. Writer/ director Matt Ross is known for the fine quality of his acting — “Silicon Valley” (as Gavin Belson), “American Horror Story,” “Big Love,” the film “American Psycho” and his portrayal of Johnny Cash in “Ring of Fire.” This is only his second feature film as a writer/director, His first, “28 Hotel Rooms” (2012) was very well-received. The story has origins in Ross’ own upbringing and revolves around former college professor Ben Cash, played by Viggo Mortensen who, along with his recently deceased wife, transplanted their six children to the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest to raise them as independent thinkers able to survive and thrive in a natural setting. The kids have a dedicated schedule of physical training, nature exploration, studying and reading. It is important that their decision to live in this manner is not a religious choice. When circumstances force the family to re-enter the “normal” world, things get interesting — and very messy. We see that Captain Fantastic is not Mr. Perfect. However, as a man who thinks creatively, he admits when his ideas don’t work. He figures out compromises and solutions without surrendering his independence.
Ross had chosen to offer the role to Mortensen because he admired the actor’s career choices, before finding out that Mortensen actually embodied much of the background from which Ben Cash is constructed. He is a painter, photographer, poet and musician, and runs a small publishing house. He has acted on screen in several languages. Mortensen loved the screenplay. Indeed, in this efficiently told story, pictures paint a thousand words, and every detail is covered. In one scene a glance at an antique Singer sewing machine shows how the kids’ clothes are made. A shot of a kitchen garden, a row of books on a shelf, tell volumes. The juxtaposition of lifestyles when the family intrudes into the world below has us laughing at ourselves. Neither existence is presented without flaws.
Captain Fantastic has Oscar written all over it. The cinematography by Stephane Fontaine is stunning, both in the forest and on the road. The score by Alex Somers adds layers to each scene without being intrusive. Mortensen completely embodies the main character. George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Analise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks and Charlie Shotwell play the kids. They are so fascinating to watch that even though there are six of them, each one is memorable.
What would it be like to grow up in a world where you are taught to survive rather than hide from danger, where wealth is not flaunted as a measure of success, where topics such as sex and philosophy are discussed openly with children? Can we learn to stop filtering what we see, read and hear with preconceived ideas? If every so often we strip our lives down to the bare necessities of survival, our eyes might be opened to wonders our forefathers and foremothers experienced on a daily basis. The film illustrates one of my favorite quotes from George Bernard Shaw: “You see things, and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream of things that never were, and I say ‘Why not?’”
Rated R. 118 minutes.
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previously published reviews, see https://kwboole.wordpress.com.