From writer and director Matt Ross, Captain Fantastic features Viggo Mortensen (better known as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings) giving a fine performance as Ben Cash, a father who has chosen to raise his family out in the forests of Washington State, teaching them survival skills whilst encouraging critical thinking and maintaining a firmly book-led education.
Tragedy strikes when the family learns that Leslie, Ben’s wife and mother to his six children, has killed herself following a long illness. Together, Ben and the children resolve to attend her funeral and carry out her final wishes.
Over the course of the journey, contact with the outside world sees some of the children begin to question their unorthodox upbringing which brings them into conflict with their father. Therein lies the strength of this film, for Matt Ross invites us to make up our own minds regarding Ben’s character, rather than depicting him as either right or wrong in his parenting choices.
In one scene, the middle child Rellian asks why they cannot celebrate Christmas like other ‘normal’ families. Ben invites him to debate the issue with him and the other children, promising him that if he can convince them, they will indeed celebrate the holiday.
In spite of the serious theme of the movie, it still retains a strong comedic sensibility. The funniest scenes arise from situations which juxtapose the rural, yet intellectual upbringing of the Cash children (perhaps a deliberately ironic choice of name considering the family’s rejection of capitalist society) with the ignorant children of the urban mainstream.
Captain Fantastic was an unexpected treat and, in a word, fantastic.