“Captain Fantastic” is about the fantasy of being able to create a perfect world for your children, and the crushing realization that such control is ultimately impossible. Ben (Viggo Mortensen) pursues this ideal in a particularly extreme way – by removing his family from society altogether and creating his own little utopia in the Pacific Northwest wilderness.
We meet the family in the midst of a hunt. They’re all covered in camouflaging mud. The eldest, Bo (George MacKay), slaughters an animal, and Ben tells him that he is a man now. Primitive though the ritual may be, this family is not. Far from it. They are survivalist philosopher kings – highly educated and extremely self-sufficient.
The six children, Nai (Charlie Shotwell), Zaja (Shree Crooks), Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton, who resembles young River Phoenix), Vespyr (Annalise Basso), Kielyr (Samantha Isler) and Bo have been molded in Ben’s very specific image. And, for the most part, they worship their father and their lifestyle – Noam Chomsky day and all.
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The casting director should win an award for finding these truly excellent young performers, who shine alongside the always wonderful Mortensen.
No, there is something more serious festering. Their mother, Leslie (Trin Miller), has been away for three months, hospitalized with severe depression. The kids miss her dearly. But we never get the chance to really meet her. Ben finds out early in the film that she’s killed herself.
The death forces the family out of their little paradise and into the real world to attend her funeral in Arizona – even though Leslie’s grieving father Jack (Frank Langella) has threatened to arrest Ben if he shows up. But, c’mon. It’s their mother. Of course they’re going to go.
“Grandpa can’t oppress us!” the youngest exclaims.
So they pack up their rickety green school bus and venture down from their ivory tower to go south, into the depths of the America that Ben hates.
The film veers into cloying sentimentality a little too often, and, some might tire of Ben’s philosophies. But that also just means there’s room for his character to grow, too.
“Captain Fantastic” is the second feature from writer-director Matt Ross, (who is best known for his acting. I imagine a film of the caliber of “Captain Fantastic” is bound to change that – this is no flash-in-the-pan success. It’s a beautifully realized vision with edge and a true heart.
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, Charlie Shotwell, Shree Crooks, Nicholas Hamilton, Annalise Basso and Samantha Isler
Director: Matt Ross
Rated R (language and brief graphic nudity)