Captain Fantastic starts off with a deer happily munching leaves. However, when we spot people in black face hiding in the bushes, we sense that this deer is in danger. The peacefulness and serenity that opened the movie is quickly about to change.
Viggo Mortensen plays Ben, a father who has decided to raise his children in the wilderness. The kids, ranging from about six to 17, each have at least one large serrated Bowie knife, and they hunt animals for food and clothing. They are the people in black face and the deer is graphically killed with a large hunting knife within the first few minutes of the movie.
They earn some money from making bird houses and other objects out of wood, which they take to the nearest store to sell, but since they rely on animals for food and clothing, their shopping needs are minimal. They all undergo rigorous athletic training – including knife fighting — and they have to be tough – Ben doesn’t like whiners. When one boy slips while rock climbing, he has to suck it up, because as Ben says, “There’s no cavalry. No one will come and magically appear to save you in the end.”
Ben home schools them, but their academic training goes far beyond anything they would ever learn at school. They can quote passages from classic books, recite the Declaration of Independence and they celebrate Noam Chomsky’s birthday instead of Christmas. This is no ordinary family. They sometimes even hang out in the nude (Ben included – yes, we get to see Viggo in the buff again).
Their mother, Leslie, is absent. She was diagnosed with a string of mental illnesses and went south to where her parents live to get care. One day Ben gets a phone call. Leslie has committed suicide.
Leslie’s father, Jack, threatens to have Ben arrested if he attends the funeral, but Ben’s children persuade him to take them anyway.
There are other side stories, such as the eldest son, Bodevan, getting acceptance letters to a number of Ivy League colleges, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, and another son, Rellian, rebelling against anything his father espouses because he feels Ben is responsible for Leslie’s unhappiness and subsequent death.
Ben may seem crazy to most people, but his children — though unsocialized to an astounding degree, are extremely knowledgeable and can take care of themselves. They haven’t spend years in front of a television letting their brains rot — their spare time is spent reading the classics instead (and apparently memorizing passages) and also deciding which religion or philosophy they most identify with — except for Christianity, which Ben ridicules.
However, it becomes apparent that the kids’ education has included Christianity, because in one hilarious scene, when a cop boards their bus because one of their tail lights is out and begins to ask too many questions, the oldest boy starts singing a Christian hymn with a fervent smile on his face. When the rest of the family joins in, it drives the cop away. He quickly gets off the bus and leaves them alone.
I liked the movie — except for the bloody animal scenes. Before I saw it, I assumed Ben would be a vegan or vegetarian – it just seemed like a hippie who doesn’t believe in commercialism would also be a lover of all life. He’s more a survivalist — his lesson to his children is to do whatever it takes to survive — even steal.
The notion of children raised and educated at home, being extremely fit, knowing self defense and living amongst the enormous trees of the beautiful Pacific forest is romantic and an attractive ideal.
I also loved the anti-commercialism (pop/soda is poison water, as Ben says) and the message that we should try to educate ourselves instead of mindlessly playing video games/watching TV for hours on end. I love that they all have scratches and bruises and think nothing of it. This is a family that doesn’t sweat the small stuff — and it’s no surprise when they also prove to be extremely loyal to each other.
Overall, this is a fascinating story that’s worth watching, if not for the messages and the story of one very unique family, then for Viggo Mortensen’s performance. With six children of varying ages, personalities and beliefs, and a wife who just committed suicide, his character, Ben, has a lot to deal with. And even though Ben seems a little nutty at times, the warmth Viggo brings to the performance makes him entirely believable and very likable.
If you have seen Captain Fantastic yourself and would like to write your own review, click here. The movie opens in Toronto today and in Ottawa and Vancouver on July 22, then expands to Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria and Halifax on July 29, 2016.