Captain Fantastic: A Review by Nate Hill 

Somewhere deep in the rugged mountainsides of the Pacific Northwest, a mother and father have chosen to raise their five children off the grid, away from society and by a completely different set of rules and customs than anyone in our day and age is used to. Viggo Mortensen doesn’t take on just any film, and in fact since his breakout role in Lord of The Rings which allowed him some clout, he’s done nothing but carefully thought out, worthwhile cinema, Captain Fantastic being probably one of the best. He is intense and caring as Ben, an intellectual renaissance man who has been bitterly put off of capitalism and commercialism. His wife (Trin Miller, angelic in flashbacks) is mentally ill and eventually passes away, leaving him on his own with the brood. He does what he knows best, sticking to the rigid physical and intellectual education plan in place for them. They learn to hunt wild game with homemade tools, read from classics like Lolita and Brothers Karamazov every evening, grow all their own grains and vegetation, practice complex defense, combat and survival skills, and live a life of elemental potency, far from the lemming’s march of consumerism just beyond their verdant and very isolated homeland. Trouble has a way of finding paradise though, however well it hides, and here it arrives in the simplest form of all: the absence of a mother. Things aren’t the same following her death, and they all take up arms and head south to New Mexico for her funeral, in a big old repurpoused school bus. They’re the most ecentric family you’ve ever met, and the ironic part is they’re the closest thing to what we were meant to live like in this world you’ll find. The real absurdity is the technicolor strip mall fast food fever dream we inhabit today, far removed from our earthy origins. It’s just because it’s become so commonplace that it seems normal to us. The family clashes spectacularly with an unprepared outside world who react to their behaviour in many different ways. The children all have the physique of a professional athlete and the academic abilities of six college professors, but somewhere along the way Ben forgot to teach them about what matters most: How to interact with one another, how to care for and love another human, and the simple social cues one aquires from growing up around a large number of people. His jaded father in law (knockout work from Frank Langella) sees Ben as a loose cannon, a danger to his grandchildren and the cause of his daughter’s death. At one point the film levels out and let’s us see things in a complete objective way: yes there are extreme benefits to a method of raising children like this, an experience that no one else could have and an implementation of their human potential that goes several degrees farther than usual. But how far is too far? Is there a dangerous element to their training and conditioning that goes beyond what they’re capable of and poses a threat? Mortensen is a picture of conflict, his undying love for his children tested when he’s thrown out of the comfort coccoon he has forged for them. Suddenly he is not the all knowing protector they’ve gotten used to, and the world outside is just as much a cause of fear for him as it is for them. They are a family though, which is achingly, evidently clear in each performance. George Mackay is the eldest and bears the brunt of realization when it comes time to meet other people. The others, including Annaliese Basso, Shree Crooks, Nicholas Hamilton and Samantha Isler are all sensational and have a lived in, well worn and often quite hilarious dynamic. It’s essentially a fish out of water story that begs us to question both the water and the land, and how going from one environment to the other, both worlds apart but in the same realm, can affect a human being. This is the best film I have seen so far this year, one that challenges us to ponder what we see unfold, urges us to be more than just another fish in the school, but to laugh, be crazy, think for ourselves and pitch in an effort to find the scattered pieces of the puzzle we call the human condition. Fantastic is the word indeed.

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