Front Row at the Movies
vs. Straight World
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Some folks I know are homeschooling their kids. I’m not sure whether that’s a good idea or not … but it’s their family decision. I’d worry about the lack of socialization from not sharing a classroom with others. And I’d worry that there’s something I’m not teaching them that a professional educator might.
We encounter that very debate in “Captain Fantastic,” the new Viggo Mortensen movie that’s holding class this week at the Tropic.
A terrific actor, Mortensen usually takes on tough guy roles. The drill sergeant in “G.I. Jane.” The retired assassin in “A History of Violence.” The Russian mobster in “Eastern Promises.”
But here he gives us a New Age dad known to his kids as (you guessed it) Captain Fantastic.
Ben Cash (Mortensen) leads an off-the-grid life with his six children – quaintly named Bodevan, Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai – all happily ensconced in a cabin in the Pacific Northwest, a utopian paradise they’ve named Plato’s Republic. Being a dropout, Ben eschews society as we know it. To prepare his kids for a counterculture existence, he teaches them how to hunt, forage, grow their own food … survive. He calls this home schooling.
When his wife (she’s been in a mental institution) dies, the family has to return to civilization for her funeral and confront her parents (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd) who oppose the lifestyle their grandchildren have been leading.
As it turns out, reintegration with society is not as simple as it sounds. The father-in-law threatens to have Ben arrested. And the kids are totally unprepared for interaction with others their own age. A diet of Dostoevsky, quantum physics, deer hunting, and Mandarin doesn’t prepare them for a first encounter with Frosted Flakes, smart phones, video games ... and modern girls.
Mortensen shows his acting chops when Ben is forced to reevaluate his choices for his family.
Sophomore writer/director Matt Ross (“28 Hotel Rooms”) packs his film with lots of social commentary, but doesn’t quite take sides. He lets you choose your own viewpoint as the film contrasts hippiedom in the wilds of Oregon with the straight-laced strip-mall suburbia of New Mexico. No matter your personal opinion, you’ll find yourself both laughing and crying. Plus you may find yourself doing a little hard thinking.
In the end, the message of “Captain Fantastic” is: We can be what we choose. It’s our decision.