‘If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope...’
There has been a slew of movies about living off grid in recent years (Light of my Life, Leave No Trace etc) that perhaps stems from the continued suffocation of our way of life at the hands of technology. As a society, we’ve never been more connected and yet at once less together – a dichotomy that probably jars with our natural sensibilities as a species to live amongst nature. These movies channel that anxiety, and explore the compromises that all of us make in order to live in a world of social media, fake news and the ongoing culture wars. And boy… is it exhausting. Captain Fantastic gently probes our addiction to the internet age, but does so in a way that is gloriously life affirming.
Ben (Viggo Mortensen) has made the decision to take his family into the wilderness and raise them in his own inimitable style. This means hunting, rock climbing and the celebration of Noam Chomsky’s birthday. Ben’s eccentric children, led by Bodevan (George MacKay), must navigate a culture clash of gigantic proportions when a family tragedy forces them out into the real world.
I spent most of Captain Fantastic worrying that writer/director Matt Ross (otherwise known as Gavin Belson from Silicon Valley) had slipped in an agenda into his otherwise excellent film. I couldn’t really find one. The suggestion that people would probably be happier living in a more primitive way is hardly revolutionary. The fact that Ross presents the trials and tribulations that come with that lifestyle, as well as a yearning idealism, makes Captain Fantastic a well rounded and salient movie.
Most of all, Ross’s second directorial feature is just eminently watchable. Think Little Miss Sunshine for the streaming era. Mortensen is a revelation as the unyielding patriarch, but the young cast nipping at his heels provide some of the film’s most purely enjoyable moments, and a supporting adult cast of Kathryn Hahn, Frank Langella and Erin Moriarty ensure that the central family never feels too isolated.
A word too for George MacKay. After starring in 1917 and as Ned Kelly, the British actor has the world at his feet. He is wonderful here. At once an outspoken intellectual and a naive introvert. MacKay convincingly pulls off both sides of the Bodevan coin, and in doing so, he is more than a match for his more experienced co-star.
Captain Fantastic is probably the most outright entertaining film I have seen in 2021. Something for everyone to enjoy.