A strange and haunting film that questions notions of normality and acceptability in 21st century America, Captain Fantastic begins as an essay on eccentricity and isolationism before morphing into an emotional stand-off between perceived freedom and conservatism.
Viggo Mortensen is Ben, a father raising his brood in the woods and mountains far away from regular society. Struggling with the recent death of his wife, he bundles his kids aboard a ramshackle bus to attend her funeral.
Thus Ben is forced to confront aspects of his life he had thought were long buried, not least his in-laws who view him as an anarchist who stole away their daughter.
But there is rebellion in the ranks, not least from the eldest son, a near-genius (played by George MacKay) with invitations to attend several top universities courtesy of surreptitious applications by dear, dead mom. The explosion it causes is fatal to Ben’s paradisiacal vision.
Throughout the story writer-director Matt Ross delineates Ben’s credo, which, at its most rudimentary, is about sticking it to the man. The road trip exposes the kids – all of them steeped in literature, politics and philosophy – to the downside of the American dream. Observing ordinary folk in the street one asks, “Why are they all so fat…?”
The piece is driven by Mortensen, as close-minded as he is free-spirited. Running up mountains is all very well but killing and gutting wild animals à la 1820s frontier life does not a rounded human being make.
It comes to a head at the funeral, and via a confrontation with buttoned-up father-in-law Jack (Frank Langella). This is territorial stuff, with each man marking his piece of ground. A quirky odyssey that makes a case for two very different lifestyle choices, Captain Fantastic is delightfully off-kilter and utterly captivating.