The apple always doesn’t fall far from the tree. For the kids of Ben though, they don’t have much of a choice. Captain Fantastic takes a look at unconventional parenting and makes a slight jab at hippie ideology.
Ben raises 6 kids in an environmentalist’s paradise and a millennial’s nightmare – an eco-friendly habitat with no modern technology. The cinematography provides some interesting contrasts between their idyllic world of green with, as one of the girls put it, their grandfather’s “vulgar display of wealth”. This way of living is not exactly grounded on saving mother earth, but on an anti-establishment coda that prioritizes self-sufficiency.
The result is a cross between a hippie commune and a survivalist boot camp. This molded a gaggle of babes into capable individuals that could survive an apocalypse, but they’re also self-aggrandizing intellectuals that are one step away from becoming the next Unabombers.
Nonetheless, Ben is a proud father who rules with stark honesty. “There is no cavalry”, he reminds Rellian as the teenager complains of a possibly fractured wrist during rock climbing. A quick bandage is good enough, lest he becomes “over medicated” like the rest of the pitiful creatures outside their paradise.
Thankfully Ben is not a one-dimensional self-righteous douche thanks to Viggo Mortensen. By balancing arrogance with openness and just enough vulnerability, he turns Ben into a personable character – he’s doing his best as a father, but his methods are borderline child abuse.
This presents interesting questions in the movie – is living a sustainable yet isolated lifestyle at the cost of a normal childhood justifiable? how do you participate in a society where there is no ethical consumption under capitalism?
Unfortunately, the movie abandons this intelligent discourse for a lopsided story. The script questions Ben’s teachings briefly, then turns around to paint it as a harmless quirky way of living.
Sure, their cousins have access to healthcare but they’re also stupid privileged kids. Their grandfather (the underused Frank Langella) has the money to support them but he’s too damn rich. They don’t celebrate Christmas, but they have Noam Chomsky day and receive weapons. As the movie comes to a conclusion, it’s Rellian who ends up apologizing for questioning his father and demanding a normal life.
When viewed mainly as a family drama, Captain Fantastic is still enjoyable thanks to the performance of its cast. It teaches us that while we should be allowed to live our lives by how we damn please, there’s also no single way to live a life. Compromises are needed to be made to enable your children to adapt, not live the life you think they should be living.
Captain Fantastic has a biased discourse on parenting, but it's still an enjoyable family drama thanks to a solid performance by its cast.