Directed by Matt Ross
Released July 29, 2016
There is something about the wilderness that feels anti-establishment, and that’s probably because, far from society and civilization, rules and laws can’t be enforced the way they can in an urban or suburban environment. Making an escape from the world is usually propelled not by an isolated event but by a disillusionment with the way things are and a desire to live a purer and richer life free from negative influences. “Captain Fantastic” presents a wondrous portrait of six children raised by their parents in the Pacific Northwest, determined to give them an authentic education about how the world can work.
Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Leslie brought their family to rural Washington State in protest of capitalism. They use nature around them to teach their children essential life skills and important facts from history. Unfortunately, Leslie’s mental health deteriorates, and when it leads to her suicide, Ben brings his children into the real world that they barely know and must navigate the difficulty of fulfilling what he knows to be Leslie’s last wishes when the other members of her family do their best to stop him from doing so and threaten to take his children away, citing questionable parenting decisions and a similar instability to his late wife.
I had the privilege of attending a reception in New York City in celebration of the film back in November with writer/director Matt Ross and star Mortensen. It was a particular pleasure to speak with Ross, who I recognized immediately from his fantastic role as maniacal tech mogul Gavin Belsen on “Silicon Valley.” His character on that show couldn’t be any more different from Ben, and he said that it was a very fulfilling and wonderful experience to make this film with Mortensen, who had equally positive things to say about the process.
“Captain Fantastic” is a film that might be described as a comedy with dramatic leanings, ultimately producing more endearing smiles than heartfelt tears. The film has enjoyed an unexpectedly strong awards season reception, earning Mortensen a Golden Globe bid – in drama – and SAG nominations for both Mortensen and the cast. They’re well-deserved, since the usually serious Mortensen does a remarkable job of letting loose in a controlled way. The standout of a great supporting cast is George MacKay, who appeared in “11.22.63” and “Pride,” as Bo, the most opinionated and rebellious child. This fun and involving film is a sweet, fresh, and creative exploration of what it’s like to have a completely different perspective on the world.