The world has not ended. There is still snow on the mountain tops. There are still trees in the forest. No, the world has not ended. It’s merely someone is trying to hide from it. Seclusion, however, is no escape.
For it’s not the world so much that Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is trying to escape from but responsibility. Having abandoned society for the back woods, Ben puts forward a sound argument to the audience that seems compelling, and at times irrefutable, yet can never quite manage to hide the cracks in his own psyche. No one can tell their children the harsh facts of life, trying instead to sugar coat the truth in embarrassing, stumbling sentences that are no match for Ben’s surefooted delivery, no matter how unpleasant it is.
As Ben’s vision is slowly dissected and laid bare, Mortensen provides a performance that ranks alongside the best of his career…
Ben tries to instill in his children a set of skills that can aid them in overcoming adversity and removes all pretense. Presenting them with setting bones or striping a deer carcass of its meat, he deliberately exposes them to difficult tasks and even challenges their minds, using concepts such as Quantum Entanglement or Nabokov’s Lolita. He makes sure they can not only recite the Bill of Rights but also interpret its meaning before they’re even ten. Moments of relief for his children come in beautiful music pieces, intimate scenes in which the music, from the cast themselves, shows that despite the intense lifestyle, Ben’s family is just that, a family.
Yet Ben’s position is not tenable, for all his talk of encouraging his children, and enabling them to reach their potential, what he’s really doing is forcing them to accept his own, skewed view of the world. When his sister stops him giving his children wine, he just waits till she’s out of the room before doing it anyway in abject defiance. When Reillan (Nicolas Hamiliton) runs away to his grandfather (Frank Langella), Ben sends his sister Vespyr (Annalise Duffo) to get him back. The result is tragic, something you could only expect from a character so fierce in conviction and avert to letting his children truly relax.
…Captain Fantastic is a bittersweet morality tale yet is laced with moments of humour…
As Ben’s vision is slowly dissected and laid bare, Mortensen provides a performance that ranks alongside the best of his career as his ideas are so absolute that he forces them onto his children with no compromise. Mortensen is strong throughout, displaying a range of emotions all shackled within his own failed ideology, because he is incapable of compromise, and has yet to understand the truth of fatherhood. Namely that he is supposed to be there for his children, not the other way around.
The supporting cast only goes to amplify the solidness of Mortensen as this film brutally pries open the shell Ben has tried to keep himself and, devastatingly, his family within. Frank Langella is great as the patriarch, who, for all his bluster, just wants to see his grandchildren following traumatic events, while George MacKay marks himself out as one to watch through his turn as the fiercely loyal Bodevan, whose own attempts to keep his family together clash with a desperate need to see the rest of the world without his father’s constant shadow. The real applause though deserves to go to Nicholas Hamiliton, whose angry howl as Reillan is an emotional wave that keeps breaking on the rocks of his father’s stubborn arrogance in an incredibly compelling performance.
Ultimately Captain Fantastic is a bittersweet morality tale yet is laced with moments of humour, and demonstrates the apparent fallacy of consumerism, but actually makes the point that you can’t be a rebel for ever. Sooner or later you have to leave the back woods behind; and you need to realise providing for your family is not all about giving them an ideology, but caring for them and letting them develop freely… acting as a guardian, not a master.
By Gareth Wood