I discovered this movie through the 2017 Oscars. While La La Land, Casey Affleck and everything else typically Hollywood took the front-page headlines, a single nomination for this meant the world to what the Academy should have always been doing. When I went through the nominations’ list the first time, this was the only movie I could not recognise. Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn for the child in me) nominated for the Best Actor in a Leading Role was a surprise back then.
Captain Fantastic is the story of Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his six kids – all ranging between the ages of six and eighteen – as they survive, live and educate themselves in a life they have set up for themselves. They live in a forest, without any instrument of modern day living as they train, fight, read, cook, hunt, and debate in their life of purity and purpose. Soon when the tragic news of the death of their mother, Leslie, arrives, the seven embark on a journey out in the ‘real’ world.
The relationship between Ben Cash – the dad – and his six kids is the core of the movie. This is the one foundation which is a given, as no matter the scenario or the reason for conflict around the characters, this core swivels with and for the answer. The six kids – Bo, Vespyr, Kielyr, Rellian, Zaja, and Nai – all have different personalities and maintain an orderly stand for it. Despite their high intellect and physical prowess, their childlike curiosity is what makes you question the ethically incoherent yet thought-provoking theme of the feature. The beauty and freshness the movie starts with are infectious in the sense that it stays until the very end. The bitter-sweet journey and its ultimatum to settle for the best of both worlds is satisfying.
The name of a movie is a director’s last invoice to his intent behind it. I remember how soon after watching No Country for Old Men, I matured my understanding of cinema. The Coens didn’t want us to take the tension of the heists or the murders home. They wanted us to gain an insight into the mind of an aging police officer who is well past his prime and feels slower and less suitable by the day. The constant threat of time and the sense that he doesn’t fit in this place. The title does.
Captain Fantastic, too, provides a very alternate take into what Matt Ross wanted us to grasp out of this movie. The movie will be remembered for the fresh vibe it created and how its heartfelt answers to the society’s basics. And to lead this venture from the front was a Captain.
Ben Cash was his children’s superhero. Not just through rainy terrains, rock climbing and an imperfect analysis of Lolita, but due to the very chance that he exposed them to the less normal but more natural world of wonders. Mortensen’s character is one to live by and the mere abundance of knowledge and experience in his eyes and voice is convincing enough for that affirmation.
As for us, the viewers. Our monotonous routines are way past their deadlines and with time, we have – consciously or not – forgotten what all is basic and what all is not. What came with us, and what we built. The line has become narrower with every passing day – when we have failed to acknowledge our existence. The story of survival which started off just as a section in a book of sections has slowly become the only chapter. With our fates reticent and close-mouthed, it’s about each of us to locate hidden chapters of life and its musings through the sticky pages in between.
My favourite perspective to look at this multi-layered spectacle is that of identifying and looking into the overlaps between freedom and ethical conflict, between raw truth and guidance abuse, and finally between vorfreude and the final arrival of reality. Looking through Ben, who remembers his promises with Leslie but consciously chooses to forget the reasons behind ‘the real world’, we too navigate our path between this discord.
Viggo Mortensen’s performance is terrific and for no part of the two-hour movie does he feel like anything not Ben Cash. All the six children, especially Nicholas Hamilton (Rellian), are ever-present and feel well settled in this alternate, more-manual world.
The intent was clear from the very start and the ambiguation evident when Ben said to Leslie “Our kids will be philosopher kings” and we identified problems with the objectivity of it. Captain Fantastic, although rushes through a bit of the character development, boasts its independence in the diversity of ideas. The very elaboration of ‘what-ifs’ leads its argument – one it started, raised and answered on its own.
– Mayank Malik