To watch the trailer for ‘Captain Fantastic’ having seen the film last night, I am reminded of the poignant beauty of the endeavour which Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife set out to accomplish by raising their family off-grid and by a very different set of rules which challenge twenty-first century Western sensibilities. The film is raw and thought provoking, it nods to the human darkness and the teetering knife edge of sanity (a nod to the mother’s bipolar disorder) and crafts a tale of independent, stripped back to nature life where a father is raising his children to be “philosopher kings”. Ben Cash is either “the best father in the world or the worst” and both are possibilities as the film unfolds and we watch as the ideologies and honest truths of the Cash family life are challenged by necessary and unavoidable clashes with modern social norms and expectations.
Love and the extremities to which man will go to cultivate and defend what he believes to be right and important are central to this film. The children are raised to fend and fight for themselves, their thinking is informed and highly intelligent because they are challenged and engaged, reading Middlemarch and discussing Marxism and Noam Chomsky round the fire at night. We really see their natural spiritedness through their creativity and musicality where in one particularly poignant scene the family sing and dance around a funeral pyre on a cliff top to celebrate life, death, and love.
The film is soulful but also grates on you, you leave feeling divided about Cash’s parenting and the extent to which his love and determination borders manic extremism and potentially abusive situations, such as creating a ‘mission’ for the family to “free the food” from a supermarket; things are unravelling at the seams and the Cash family way of life entirely is called into question during the whole film. Is Ben Cash and the children’s sense of reality skewed, or are we as an audience being asked to wonder what makes our accepted social reality ‘the right way’ to view the world?
‘Captain Fantastic is not a sugary sweet ‘hippie’ tale of peace, love, and harmony and I think that the writer/director Matt Ross thoughtfully explores the adventure and possibility that life can take you on. The film is an exposition of the extent to which one can truly remove oneself from social norms and yet see the bigger picture and relate to world as a whole through negotiation and open mindedness of what is right.
I left the cinema with divided sympathies and my head a whirr of thought and wonder. ‘Captain Fantastic’ reminded me of people I met and befriended living in Byron Bay, Australia where many people choose to try to live off grid and ‘alternative’ lifestyles. The culture-clash when I first encountered some of the people in this hippie paradise subsided when I let my guard down and stopped feeling like I had to defend myself and the way that I knew life to be. In opening my mind to other ways of educating oneself and of interacting with the world, I took in new perspectives and had a re-think, which I know was a very healthy and beneficial process to go through.
When watching ‘Captain Fantastic’ I smiled thinking of my barefooted bohemian friends. The film struck my fancy on first glance not only because it reminded me of people and ways of life which I came across whilst living in Australia, but also because of my current position at the beginning of my teacher training and the insight it gave into childhood, education, and the wonderful hope for raising children to take on the world as “philosopher kings”, bringing power to the people and sticking it to the man.