Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Viggo Mortensen stars as the patriarch of a brood of six children who live off the grid in Washington state. They grow or hunt for their food, live in what looks like a yurt, and he home schools them. They know six languages and the eight-year-old can recite the Bill of Rights. At the film's opening, the oldest son, George Mackay, kills his first deer, with just a knife, and is proclaimed a man.
Where is the wife? She's in a mental hospital. The one concession to the modern age the family has is a bus that they take into town for supplies. In town, Mortensen calls his sister to learn that his wife has killed herself. He calls his father-in-law, who was paying for her care, and is told in no uncertain terms that he is not welcome at the funeral. After urging by his kids, they decide to go anyway.
Captain Fantastic paints a rosy picture of life in the woods. Mortensen seems to know about everything, and teaches his kids physics, music, and politics. But there is a sense that this is indoctrination just like someone raising their kids to believe in Jesus. The older son has, without his father's knowledge, applied to and been accepted at the finest colleges. A middle son is rebelling and when visiting children in the modern world likes what he sees. How are you going to keep them down the farm, once they've seen an X-Box?
Frank Langella plays the father-in-law, who hates Mortensen with a passion, seeing him as a child abuser, threatens to fight for the kids custody. He is the embodiment of capitalism, living in a huge house by a golf course. Langella also ignores the wife's wishes to be cremated and flushed down a toilet. After one of his kids is injured, Mortensen realizes that they may belong with Langella, and that his wish for them was a mistake.
It's a thoughtful and emotional film, with lots of gentle humor, no more so than when Mackay meets a girl at a campground and clumsily tries to seduce her. When caught kissing her (his first kiss ever) by her mother he drops to his knee and proposes.
Captain Fantastic (which has nothing to do with the Elton John song of the same name) was written and directed by Matt Ross, does a nice job of presenting both the pros and cons of off-the-grid living. It seems nice, but when I think about living without Wi Fi I draw the line. But I wouldn't have minded the vigorous education by Mortensen.