Captain Fantastic : A Film Review


Directed by Matt Ross.  USA. English. Duration 118mins. Cert. 15.

Produced by Monica Levinson, Jamie Patricof, Shivani Rawat, Lynette Howell Taylor. Written by Matt Ross.

Cast. Viggo Mortensen as Ben Cash, George MacKay as Bodevan, (18 and eldest child) Samantha Isler as Kielyr, Annalise Basso as Vespyr, Nicholas Hamilton as Rellian, Shree Crooks as Zaja, Charlie Shotwell as Nai, Kathryn Hahn as Harper (Aunt), Trin Miller as Leslie (Mom), Steve Zahn as Dave (Uncle) Elijah Stevenson as Justin, Teddy Van Ee as Jackson, Erin Moriarty as Claire, Missi Pyle as Ellen, Frank Langella as Jack (Leslie’s father) Ann Dowd as Abigail (Leslie’s mother.)

Music by Alex Somers, Cinematography Stéphane Fontaine, Edited by Joseph Krings.


Unconventional hero figure
Viggo Mortensen gets first mention as the lead here simply because he dominates in presence and acting terms this canon of an an idealised future being trammeled by ‘our’ present concepts for living.  He has as his ammunition a brood of six young adults he is intent into shaping into extraordinary adults regardless of what is set in front of him.  I last remember Mortensen from the Patricia Highsmith adapted movie The Two Faces of January which took the familiar rogue elements of her stories and created a decent drama thriller.  It also needs mentioning as a veteran his first break was in the Amish thriller Witness, the unique folk-tome film with Harrison Ford, Kelly Maginnis. There is also (The History of Violence, Eastern Promise, Lord of the Rings – [Aragorn] – and The Road).


What a place to live.

Circumstances dictate Ben Cash played by Viggo Mortensen and the 6 kids, who are aged from six to eighteen, are away from Mom who shares the unconventional home-learning, wilderness approach to child rearing. It sets out with an overview of the massive, clear oxygen filling forest followed us dropping into the pin straight vertical pines and finding our protagonists, Swiss family Robinson on steroids, in a hunting mode all silent and unseen unlike their prey. Once mission achieved they perform the tasks of – a tad clichéd to begin – of utilising their prize and then they clean off in a river returning to the look of normal kids.  There are then campfire bonding, books come out, reading and story setting scenes giving us the ideas of hard learning, maintaining discipline and a wandering dialogue, discourse involving their interests of literature, music, science, spirit all openly discussed. Individual charactaturesxof the children are opened up – one of the middle children is a natural history fiend salvaging all kinds of cast off animal skulls and in a personalized tepee has his own museum developing.  They live in what are basically sheds with tepees on top in true rustic environmentally recycling style.  No bears come and visit them so they might have a off putting aroma unless the bears are in on the philosophy.  Viggo Mortensen has said he regards this role as one of the most complex emotionally he has encountered – a clear justifiable assessment – and the story just begins here around this campfire while we are given the circumstances they find themselves in presently which entail them planning to go on a road trip. After the process of democracy has chosen what to do they set out in Bens’s school bus come camper to the freeways to take them cross country to Washington, it would seem. On route they rub up against forms of authority, informative training excercise said not the fallback of most youngsters are implemented, and several comedic episodes enter.


A weapon chosen is Jesus – with the irony present – not a spoiler as we learn fairly soon of their rejection of organsised spiritual adherence – which they employ under strict parental control as a unit to deflect and dismiss interfering eyes.  It is the tactic in use with most American Evangalism hiding behind a contradictory juxtaposed strait jacket form of religion.  Take West Chigago presently where after a decade of gun crime receding but a remaining threat, the problems of social and racial division have once again spiked.  It is a recurring theme.  Even in East London on the day I seen this film a band of Black protesters came up with the idea of passive protest by crossing the Thames and chaining themselves together on Londons second airport runway at City Airport against the proposal to further intensify environmental degradation in the boroughs around the Airport with additional runways.  The premise being it was these areas that suffer most from the transport hubs enlargement as opposed to rural peripheral locations which could be developed except they are in ‘protected’ constiuencies.


So this is another change of direction given it is a family orientated, though 15 rated – possibly due to strong language, the realism of the hunting, his sans clothes in a brief encounter, and the campfire boldness of topics for his six to eighteen year old brood to confront.  Sexual politics and the other politics occupy this Pacific North-West raw isolated left-wing gang of survivors. From a base initially of Boulder, Colorado, they have moved on – (a place Maggie Thatcher – remember her, adored) and which I attribute to those slightly less ambitious migrants who declined to travel into the place known as California and sat it out near the mountains and freshest nature.  Now the hash state of America.  It never features; the family have long since moved on with Mom ditching a Law career to experiment or invest in burgeoning beliefs with Ben up on this coast and massive forest corner of the Americas.  North East was afflicted with tribalism and Pirates as a staple somewhere and George Washington convinced himself the mix was too ‘refined’ there – North East so began a Social contract of sorts with federalism, did it work out – Bush, Regean, Clinton, Obahma, and where is Donald Trump in this?  Ben on his missions I have just realised gets to play his Scottish bagpipes – a trick not yet mastered by the maternally Scottish Donald. Donald MacDonald?


Mortensens choice

The script deeply warmed to him and he has described it as one of the best he has read.  Civilisation is not his perception nor the writer Matt Ross’s but is that word people ascribe to our vulture, dog eat dog also trammeled world, especially present in America were people in some quarters find little time for their real life’s and down time while spinning someone else’s wheels.  Radical in concept it is immediately in the first few frames showing us the human is still master and the animal kingdom has its place.  Usually in front of a weapon, usually a knife (it avoids the controversy of the right to bear arms question by ignoring guns or possibly making the point through their absent of other means to kill – still only for the animal kingdom.)  Or on a campfire roasting spit envincing wild terrain living. Very Unscandinavian or is it?  As a New Yorker despite his ‘mis-placed’ Scandinavian image and name, he at fifty seven, has been able to make choices in a place were movies can accompany his creative other interests, art, poems, music.  He owns Perceval Press Publishing.  Celina Murphy of the Irish Daily Star Chic weekend magazine got to meet him in Dublins Westbury Hotel and not only did she turn out a great article she saw much depth and elements singular to Vitto as he ‘fits the story’ instead of the usual ‘not because I do something that’s on its own remarkable’ a nuance which includes the possibility of all elements coming together to create a wonder oust blend as they do here.  It is ‘family’ grow your own kids, keep fit, work with your environment. This is also accessible Comedy/Drama and finding it alongside Little Miss Sunshine in its vibe it brings the importance of the realm of ‘education’ to the fore.

Is the dreamer right?

Not only does the question lie with Captain Fantastic, it traverses the parameters, limits, preordained alliances within that most difficult of all jobs, raising children. This film is very taut and focused on this subject on account of the Director/Actor Matt Ross constructing – and all the ‘kidults’ are superb – alongside the stellar in performance if not widely accepted elsewhere – from Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, and British actor George McKay.  In other words they haven’t the profile deserved time after time.  Utterly a confrontational set of circumstances exist by way of the absence of mechanisms others; most of the western and increasingly eastern world, rely on to avoid them. It is thoroughly challenging and suggesting the education of children (which it is) being fundamental to they way the earth and people sustain existence as far into the future as realisable.  Curriculum, Curriculums are the nastiest things adults inflict on children and despite the advanced Scandinavian models, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark; Viggo Mortensen, though not in the role play as this is distinctly feral, and others may suggest as being excellent even excelling – the future itself needs more than simply this ‘social contract’ to manage things towards the future the earth spells out in reaction daily.

Pursuit of joy.

Happiness has a cause and a reaction. It is inevitably a political question. See the late, often LSE quoted, political theorist Ghiri Ionescu – my go to modern philosopher on The Pursuit of Happiness. I don’t quite know the implications by any stretch, but it is within the frame of the film and most people’s minds always.  Harmony is digression if learning is conflicting thoughts, projections.  This arc disapates hang ups on the familiar filmic route but nevertheless has itself tied to actions and consequences resulting in, as we share the journey which is a mission here, an ending or payoff which is full of contradictory expectations.  Skillfully crafted it indeed calls on the viewers own collective experiences growing up – after 15 (Cert.) your grown up yes? – as you may empathise with either one of the 6 exuberant, thoughtful, dynamic intellects of these ‘kidults’ who wipe the floor with their age group in practical, physical and mindfulness unwanted time.  So which one were you – slightly?  Which would you have liked to be or even befriend to help?  Comedy introduces plot comparisons with encounters of kids of their age, even a rite of passage nearly if flawed as its rushed preposterously in character but rushed. There is also an introduction to Metropolis (Washington) life.  The way other people live and they make acerbic comment, on overweight over indulgent – Ben describes them as involved in ‘frenzied shopping’.

On an Awayday; on the central mission, I would only spoil the plot by revealing to you, they have a kind of ‘Labor Day holiday’ dedicated to the writers Matt Ross’s hero who will be nameless although Esperanto was an interest of theirs along with related things.  Indeed words are essentiall y a device cleverly utilised in the story.  So interesting is given the low rating of being a non-word.  The hero likewise was and is of a similar stance.  Platos republic is a bit too far distant – along with Marxism and Moaist theory to be of permanent import, important reference points but ‘bad cheese’ new cultures arise, evolve – my view – as Ben is forever trying to penetrate the cerebral cortex of these juveniles ŵith his and absent Moms philosophy rather introspectively and self developmentally.  Both Ben and Lesley have the same ideals.  If only someone told them the Bill of Rights came from a malcontented genius called Thomas Paine, from Lewes, Sussex, whose own conflicts were crippling as these might sometimes seem availing towards.

Conclusion #### 4 1/2

This is an immensely challenging emotionally sharp film about that most difficult job in the world – many parents would say the most difficult they’ve tackled – the raising of their children. Unparalleled and individual as each child is they are at the mercy of their family beliefs and parental guidance however gathered. Cultural, imposed, with or without proper context or grounding.   This then is a complex conflict undertaken by the parents of the 6 siblings evenly gender divided, evenly age divided, and under the shared values system a capable set of ‘kidults’ as their consciousness is opened to the true nature of reality insofar as they are exposed to it by their guardians.  Viggo Mortensen for reasons that evolve from the introduction to the story takes the primary share of the tutelage but shared with their mother Trin Miller as Leslie Cash.  The entourage whose names are listed at the top could easily have individual essays eerie ten about given the fine form of the writing while the eldest, George MacKay as Bodevan has a blistering performance to match the intensity of Viggo Mortensens charismatic, fully charged characterisation of the ‘best father’ construct.  Also entitled to another these net is the other father, Frank Langella as Jack (Leslie’s father) Ann Dowd as Abigail (Leslie’s mother.) Their existence within a New Mexico gated community sets up the other extreme of experience for the children and their input is intensely convincing also in the rounding of the narrative.  This is a very rewarding watch and gives plenty of room to evaluate the times and fragilities of education, upbringing and faces challenges which arose in many people’s lives regardless of plans.  As John Lennon put it ‘Life is what happens when your making plans.’
John Graham

7 September 2016

Belfast.

On at QFT BELFAST from 9 September to 22 September 2016 and selected cinemas elsewhere.

Well worth a viewing.

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