The Vermont Cynic

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Familial drama drives family to modern realities

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Everybody has felt fed up with society from time to time, and some may daydream about running away and starting a new life away from it all.

“Captain Fantastic” is a story about raising a family in that environment after rejecting social norms and the perceived inadequacies of the modern world.

The film tells the story of Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen), a dedicated father living deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest with his six children. In an effort to raise them in accordance with his worldview, they live in complete isolation, training athletically and studying constantly.

When his wife dies unexpectedly, he must take his family on a road trip to attend her funeral and ensure her last wishes are honored.

During their journey, the children are exposed to the outside world for the first time. Other than their rigorous academic regimen, they have not had any exposure to modern life. They can quote the captainfantasticConstitution from memory and speak several languages, but have no social skills or knowledge of pop culture, and are lacking any familiarity with the human experience outside academia.

During their trip to the funeral, some of the children begin to resent their situation and their father for hiding the world from them.

After meeting their estranged grandparents, this anger deepens, as does the bitterness their grandfather feels toward Ben.

Although the film focuses on several character arcs, the dominant role is clearly Ben. He is portrayed with the subtlety and skill expected from Mortensen.

Ben is a character full of contradictions. He is at once compelling, sympathetic, arrogant, dangerous, intelligent and foolhardy. While he is clearly caring and devoted, his actions also border on child abuse.

But as the film progresses, Ben is forced to reconsider his lifestyle and parenting choices, questioning if his extremist, warrior-poet attitude is beneficial to his children.

The film presents a solid family drama. The plot is simple, but frames more important elements, like character development.

The father is painted in an honest light, which is not always positive. Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw describes Ben as “someone who is essentially a cross between Charles Manson and Captain von Trapp,” an analysis that might be extreme, but not completely wrong.  

Captain Fantastic is a great family drama, especially for those who have felt frustrated with the world at large.

It tells a thought-provoking story without preaching or insisting any morals, except maybe moderation.

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Familial drama drives family to modern realities