Captain Fantastic is a psychopath of a movie. It’s beautiful and slick and compelling; yet scratch at the surface there’s nothing there. It is an empty film, hollow, devoid of humanity and empathy. The fact that it will no doubt be held up as one of the year’s feel good movies sickens me.
I hated this film.
Viggo Mortensen (terrific [in both senses of the word]) stars as Ben, a rugged All-American raising his children to be detached from society in the woods. Why does he do this? Not sure really, it seems he doesn’t like America, or society, or something… Whatever grudge this character, this film, has against capitalism it refuses to specify. The film talks a lot of shit about politics ‘I’m not a Trotskyist, I’m a Maoist.’ Huffs Gorge McKay (still great)’s Bodevan. ‘She was a Buddhist, but saw it not as a religion, but as a series of guiding philosophies for life.’ But what any of this amounts to, aside from a general distaste of Americana, is left totally a mystery. I’d have had more sympathy for the guy if he just wanted to grow a bunch of weed and get high as fuck. At least the he would stand for something.
So they’re in the forest. But no recognisable forest you’ve ever seen. The film opens with them killing a deer, the next scene it is being skinned. Handily it was disembowelled off camera. The film presents its greatest metaphor here: it presents life with all the guts taken out. The children are well nourished, their hair and skin and clothes are clean. The girls (Samantha Isler and Annalise Basso [both pretty awesome]) wear their nails long and their legs shaven. Hell to the suggestion that this could be hard. There are more important things at play here, like the fact that this flick needs to be joyous and cheerful and life affirming.
Americans, it tells us are stupid. Stupid and fat. Quite unlike those living in the free state of Helter Skelter or wherever the fuck. Our Captain Fantastic and his clan are Wunderkind. Every other character in the movie is a wreck, stumbling over their words as our heroes gleefully eviscerate them. All while our noble, infallible, logical hero spouts off his pearls of wisdom. Children are allowed to drink alcohol in Europe! Fast food is bad! Our over-reliance on automobiles is destroying the planet! The most revolutionary this film gets is in naming the van ‘Steve’ a grand blow against traditional gendered naming systems.
It is a film so desperate to be Little Miss Sunshine that it completely disregards the story it is actually telling. Little Miss Sunshine (and its better, The Royal Tenenbaums) work because they are essentially minor works. Stakes remain low, both essentially pose the question: will this family reconcile? Whether ending at a pageant or a wedding the action along the way remains largely pedestrian allowing relationships to gradually grow as small acts take on greater weight.
Nobody watched these films and asked, ‘What if it were more EXTREME!’ That’s Captain Fantastic, everything’s pushed to eleven. The kid who hates his dad, well he gotta get fucked up. A revelation is needed, let’s almost kill someone. Humans don’t react to extremity well and as a result, none of these characters act like humans. Relationships which seeming drive the core of the plot are changed unmotivated, on a whim, because, ‘We need some drama here.’ or ‘Well they just gotta make up.’
And at the end, after we drop the most interesting plot threads (because they’re the hardest to resolve, and hell, who has time for that) We discover the truth. Of course, the real answer was right in the middle all along, in its final moments it chickens out of saying anything meaningful or interesting in order for our characters to find comfort in the blandest, milquetoast, petite-bourgeois existence imaginable.
That’s the final message of the film. America can be great: So long as you’re white, intellectual, able-bodied, land-owning and financially independent.
Well done Matt Ross.
You’re a fucking hero.