Opening with an offbeat sequence about hunting, Captain Fantastic sets up its premise so effortlessly that it took me by surprise how quickly I was invested emotionally rather than catching up. Very quickly, I found myself clutching a hoodie for comfort, as despite the highly irregular and unfamiliar setting, I was on the edge of my seat quickly, and with unusual pride in the characters and their beliefs.
Beautifully shot in the woods of Western Washington, Captain Fantastic depicts the lives of the Cash family; Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and his six children, varying in ages from 5 – 18, who live in isolation in the woods. Ben puts his children through daily training routines, and provides them with an honest, detailed, and world-consensus-critical approach to education. They know of the world, but only from books. Ben and his wife, Leslie (Trin Miller), have risen their children in this utopian setting for various reasons, but that is not the focus. Leslie dies after suffering a particularly horrific episode of her bipolar disorder, and Ben finds himself disowned by her family from attending her funeral. The children refuse to accept this punishment, and a quest begins to provide their mother with the farewell she deserves.
What underpins this adventure is a thrilling array of relationship depictions between the children. Some of them adore their unusual existence, and others are confused and frustrated, jealous of the real world. A particularly funny moment occurs on Noam Chomsky Day, (because as Ben puts it, ‘why would you rather celebrate the birth of a fictional elf when we could celebrate a real humanitarian and scholar?’. Furthermore, an overnight stop in a trailer park sees Bo (Goerge MacKay) completely befuddled by how to approach a conversation with a potentially romantic interest, and what may be the funniest marriage proposal I have ever seen.
The performances from the children are all so beautiful and precise it’s impossible to touch on them all. Annalise Basso and Samantha Isler as Vespyr and Kielyr in particular have the ability to fill the screen with emotion and are worth betting on as future stars. The film’s emotional heart comes to the front and centre when the tribe starts infighting, and Jack, Leslie’s father, gloriously played by Frank Langella, clashes with Ben on the children’s welfare, and the question of the best way to impart love and care becomes the key.
Beautifully crafted with variety, and emotionally engaging performances from start to finish, Matt Ross has made something so unique. Like Room from earlier his year, a story about family and how to cope with a family coming together unconventionally excels itself, and is now the film to beat this year. Seek it out. You will be surprised how quickly the two hours go by and wish you could spend more time with this family.