There are many ways to raise children, but the manner in which Ben (Viggo Mortensen) rears his in Captain Fantastic would for sure get him in deep doo-doo with CPS. In his passionately crafted sophomoric effort, Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic, embraces its own brand of weird (gas masks and animal pelt hats and all) to create a wonderful celebration of parenting, life, and our children.
Living off the land in a community in the woods of the Pacific Northwest far from society, Ben puts his six children (with names such as Kieylr and Vespyr) through rigorous challenges and education. Climbing mountains, reading dense literature, and learning about the world through books, Ben thinks he is doing right by his children by showing them just how unnatural and manufactured the world is, but after the death of his wife, he must show his children the world he has kept them from for so long.
Ben, depending on how you look at him, can either be the best dad in the world or the most destructive. Played with vigor and authenticity by Mortensen (one of our great underrated actors), his methods are extreme at times and he does not always decide what’s truly best for his kids even if he thinks its “right.” But he cares about his kids more than just about anything on the planet and will go to great lengths to steer them away from danger while also being completely open and honest about everything from sex to drugs, even with his kids who are younger than 10 years of age.
It raises a lot about how we’re raising our kids these days, acting like they are the eggs they give you in health class to monitor: but they won’t break so easily. In fact, kids these days need to learn how to take a hard knock or two instead of having parents sugarcoat everything from death to sexual relations. Ben has the right idea, but the means to which he goes about it is a little extreme.
Anchored with gorgeous cinematography of the PNW and New Mexico and its own sense of off-beat weirdness, Captain Fantastic also features fantastic performances from its younger actors such as George MacKay and Nicholas Hamilton who are the two kids who begin to question their father’s parenting style as they might know a lot about the world and what makes it run, but they don’t know the world. There’s only so much you can read about the world from books before you just have to go out and experience it yourself.
Captain Fantastic, as fantastic as it is, is not without its flaws, mainly its bloated script. Ross tries to grapple with too many subplots aside from Ben’s attempts to get his family to New Mexico for the funeral. Along with the kids showing signs of mutiny, Ben must also contend with others not viewing his parenting style as appropriate like Harper and Dave (Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn) as well as his in-laws (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd). Combined with other minor plot points, there is often too much going on, but it’s only a minor complaint in the scheme of things.
At the risk of sounding completely unoriginal, Captain Fantastic is pretty darn fantastic. Though its script could have used some chopping, Mortensen’s performance paired with a life-affirming approach to storytelling and a lesson on the ways in which we raise our children, there is enough heart, humor and love here to remind you the magic of being a parent, and the wonder of childhood.