Written and directed by Matt Ross, Captain Fantastic is a film about a family socially estranged from the modern world but rich in authenticity, independence, and philosophical knowledge. Viggo Mortensen (nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in Captain Fantastic) plays Ben, the father of a family raised in the wilderness of the United States away from the societal expectations and materialism of modern life. At first depicting a father keen on teaching his kids resilience, discipline, philosophical and scientific knowledge, and self-reliance, the plot of the film progresses as the family returns from their rural home to modern society.
Many humorous scenes follow as the brazenly honest father and his socially inexperienced children clash with societal norms, calling into question the reason behind those norms. Celebration of a holiday for the sake of tradition only, the ability of modern students to recall educational concepts, and telling white lies to children because of their age are some examples of the discussions in this film. In one scene the father gives a short sex talk to his 8 year old daughter after she asks what rape and sex are. The father later gives the same daughter the book The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort, and these scenes further illustrate the father’s unwavering dedication to answer his children’s questions honestly and fully.
The movie is frustrating at many points as the father’s decisions put his children in physical danger and socially deviant or awkward situations, but there is some merit to the father’s choices. To live removed from materialism, to expose children to challenges at a young age, to live with a consciousness of the environment and its preservation, and to value a rich education through reading, writing, discussion, and teaching are all good things. In a modern society built for advertising, entertainment, and production there is something to be learned from the way Ben raises his kids. There is the parental temptation to shelter children from any possible harm and to leave their education to the school they attend, but Captain Fantastic shows the benefits of a parent, in this case a father, dedicated to educating his children in the necessities of risk taking, the temporal nature of life, and the richness of life-long learning. While one may not agree with all of the father’s decisions, the reminder to be an intentional and dedicated parent is a good reason to watch Captain Fantastic.