Captain Fantastic was released in July. Few knew it then, or appreciated it, but it was highly prescient.
Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is raising his children in the woods amid the death of his wife. Ben’s children are intelligent. Fit. Rebellious. And severely out of touch with the outside world. Because how many hermits are rolling with wi-fi?
Mortensen straddles two worlds, conservative and liberal. In many ways his family lives an idealized Thoreauvian life. They hunt. And solely depend on nature. All of his children are home schooled. His oldest son, Ben (George MacKay), is accepted by every major university. His oldest daughter Kielyr (Samantha Isler) scales mountains and is trained to survive any knife fight. While Zaja (Shree Crooks) can recite the “Bill of Rights.”
Mortensen created a modern commune because his wife suffered from bi-polar disorder. Both decided that modern medicine wasn’t cutting-it. Cause all it takes is some twigs and leaves to cure bi-polar disorder. They and their children are distrusting of the modern world. Upon her death, her father Jack (Frank Langella) wants to give her a Christian burial, though her will states that she wants her ashes flushed down the toilet (Really, an end we would all be lucky to have). Mortensen and his children go on a pursuit to fulfill her wishes. Their entrance into the outside world is where the mixture of partisanship occurs.
What makes the film unique, it its ability to meld conservative and liberal ideologies into one family. At one moment, they are decrying the modern capitalist society (They have Noam Chomsky day. The holiday for everyone? The one you celebrate right after Christmas? Don’t throw away your Noam Chomsky tress just yet), obesity, forms of religion, and wastefulness. The next, they abhor video games as overly violent, commit to knowing their rights, exhibiting distrust in schools and government, and reclaiming what should be theirs.
Yet, Mortensen must face the reality that much of what he does is lunacy. This isn’t the 1800’s, and he’s not Davy Crockett. He gives Zaja a hunting knife, though she can’t be more than seven years old. Ben, his oldest son, is stifled because he’s not allowed to attend college. And the second he gets a kiss from a girl, he proposes to marry her with the look of someone who just got their first erection. Meanwhile, his middle son Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) resents him because he believes that Mortensen has killed his wife. And he did. His belief that a person with bi-polar disorder need only the great outdoors is the most dangerous idea since the person who discovered that two peas really do make a pod.
With the election of Donald Trump, much like Hell or High Water, there is an undercurrent. Often there is more in common with the far-right and far-left then they would like to admit. There is a mutual mistrust, a kind of MAD. A loss of faith in government. The need to take back what is yours (In this case, Mortensen kidnapping his wife’s body to be burned in a funeral pyre). It is the rise of the vigilante. Back in the 70’s vigilante pictures were common, films like Dirty Harry, Taxi Driver, The Wild Bunch, formulated in a moment of equal distrust. As mentioned in my review of La La Land, American cinema and cinema goers heavily invested in the musical as an escapist avenue in a Post-Depression wave. The Vietnam War and Nixon caused an erosion in escapist films, and an increase to the above vigilante pictures. Now, in the moment of Trump and high partisanship, the two contrasting fissures are reflecting what the different forms of our culture want, escapist and vigilante. What does that say about our future? Or much like Mortensen’s wife, will we be flushed down the toilet….
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