Captain Fantastic REVIEW
Written by Jeffrey Schimmer
An intellectual film with a ton of heart
A film like this has to walk a tightrope. If you fall on one side, you risk bashing the audience on the head. "I'm saying something important here so you must watch this." Often the audience will become disinterested. Fall on the other side and you risk the film becoming too sappy. You have a film of heart and passion, but any deeper meaning falls flat. Captain Fantastic manages to walk this line flawlessly.
We are introduced to Ben, and his brood of six, in a densely wooded are of Washington state. There, he teaches the children to live off the land, and off the grid. He makes sure they are well read. The eight-year old can recite the Bill of Rights verbatim. He also pushes them to think critically, as that same eight-year old can critically analyze the meaning of the Bill of Rights. Above all, he is honest with them. When he gets word that his wife, Leslie, has killed herself in a mental institution, he tells the kids exactly what happens to her. She killed herself due to her bipolar disorder. No sugar coating. Now, he must bring his children to New Mexico, to attend her funeral. And, to put it lightly, Leslie’s family won’t be greeting Ben with open arms.
At it’s core the movie asks a question: What is the best way to raise one’s children? Ben in incredibly intelligent. Unfortunately, not only does he have disdain for American society, he outright rejects it. The rejection manifests in how he raises his kids. They are well versed in political issues and wilderness survival, with a dose of landmark literature, but this rejection of society has a toll. The eldest son, Bodevan, at the age of eighteen, can barely talk to a girl. The policy of honesty causes the kids to alienate anyone from “normal” society. There is also the fact that in the survival training, Ben’s brood gets a bruise here or there. When faced with integrating back into society, even for a brief moment, all of these quirks crate a bit of drama.
The question is never whether Ben thinks what he is doing is right. He believes it to a fault. It is whether we the audience can buy into his way of thinking. Within the film there is this evident counter-point: that a socially connected society has its benefits. This adds an element to the story that is wholly satisfying. Ben isn't this paragon that every parent watching should look up to. It is his faults that make him human, and his story that much more compelling.
If you watch this film, which I very much recommend, go in ready to be asked questions with no easy answer. Or at the very least go for the acting. There is not one bad performance in the bunch.