Last night, a close friend of mine recommended that I watch “Captain Fantastic.” I’m not a big movie buff (I have an incredibly short attention span and if I don’t find a movie incredibly engaging, I will fall asleep within the first fifteen minutes – thanks, ADHD) but I spent the whole hour and fifty-eight minutes glued to the screen in a hyperfocused trance, and this movie has been the only thing on my mind since watching it.
The film, directed by Matt Ross, follows the life of a man named Ben Cash (played by Viggo Mortensen) who left society with his wife, Leslie, and raised six children in the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest. We never get to meet Cash’s beloved wife, though. We learn that she committed suicide after three months of staying in a mental institution for treatment of severe Bipolar Affective Disorder. The movie unpacks the lives of the family in a way that gives us hints and clues into Ben and Leslie’s relationship as we follow their grieving process of losing Leslie. The kids are rigorously trained with intensive physical exercise, highly advanced readings, and mature philosophical discussions from a young age. Each child takes turns listening and taking charge of certain situations, and every child’s views and unique characteristics are celebrated and accepted by the whole family. They depend on one another, fight for each other, and are bound by a closeness that is incredibly refreshing.
However, this movie isn’t about the benefits of rejecting society. In fact, the movie does an incredible job of questioning the beliefs of everyone. Ben’s overtly self-assured view of the world results in some condescending and dangerous choices, hinting at the idea that Ben’s abhorrence of capitalist society played a factor in Leslie’s suicide. The kids struggle when they interact with the “real world,” with the eldest son finding himself unable to connect with women his age and hiding his acceptance letters to Ivy League schools and desire to attend college from his organized-society rejecting father, and with the children finding themselves unable to coexist with their suburbanized cousins. The youngest son, Rellian, finds himself rebelling against his father and arguing that they should be able to just celebrate Christmas, finding himself unable to argue his stance to his family.
The family isn’t entirely “leftist,” as we come to find that all the children are well-equipped with weapons, utilizing impressive knives and combat skills to hunt game.
There isn’t an underlying “message” to the whole movie, as we can never pinpoint characters who are inherently right or wrong in their views. Every character has their own strengths and flaws, and every ideological view is represented in a way is both supportive and ridiculing.
This movie led me to question my views on many things. Though I find myself to be incredibly leftist in terms of my political views, this movie offered me a sober view of the strengths and weaknesses of each ideology. In the end, I felt as though I had relaxed my hard views significantly, in a way that reminded me that nothing is ever black and white, and that every decision and choice we make should be rigorously challenged before we can settle into a particular view of life.