It’s easy to be judgmental. In cases where one person’s perspective bears little or no resemblance to our own, we can be downright dismissive. We refuse to see the world through the other person’s eyes. We shrug off their decisions and way of life as delusional or crazy.
“Captain Fantastic” requires that we open ourselves to the possibilities inherent in one man’s commitment to a worldview that isolates him and his family from the modern world.
You’ll be forced to see his side of the experiment. Then you can judge. Whether you see him as a misguided lunatic or a true naturalist living the dream, you’ll be transported right from the opening scene.
A young boy, painted head-to-toe in jungle camouflage dashes through thick jungle. Spear in hand, he stalks his prey. This scene from the wild focuses on his acumen as a hunter, on his skill with the spear, and on his keen sense of his surroundings. He sees the deer in the distance, rushes in, and kills it. What appears to be a scene set in prehistoric times or located outside some remote Amazonian village suddenly shifts as the boy’s family arrives.
Cheers go up and he’s surrounded by his father and siblings. Acting on some rite of passage not usually practiced in the modern world Ben (Viggo Mortensen), the father, cuts the deer open and extracts the heart. Of course, he hands it over to his son Bo (George MacKay), who, with great gusto, eats the bloody, quivering organ.
This film’s enthralling narrative centers on Ben, the metaphorical Captain Fantastic of the title, and his decision to raise his family of six children in a remote forest encampment in the Pacific Northwest. His children practice principles of behavior that require each of them to meet physical and intellectual challenges. They’re schooled in the natural world in a way that enables them to survive without any modern conveniences or intervention. Their home-schooled educational system puts them far ahead of normal children. What six-year old can recite the Bill of Rights from memory?
The utopia built by Ben for the sake of his family begins to crack when circumstances occur that necessitate a brief re-entry into the modern world. Bo’s father-in-law Jack (Frank Langella) will become involved when he attempts to “rescue” the children. The differences brought on by the isolation of Ben and his children become more prominent as even the most well meaning people point out the problems.
The children may be educated in one sense, but they share no knowledge of the modern world. The coping mechanisms they use in the forest prove useless in confronting society’s demands. Ben has conflicts of his own.
“Captain Fantastic” ultimately requires that you reconsider first impressions. Compromise requires that we finally see the world as others see it. Everybody’s on the same journey, and how we make the trip has to be self-determined.
Rated R for language and brief graphic nudity.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews for the Empire-Tribune since 1999.