NEWLY available on DVD for hire or home purchase, Captain Fantastic is a comedy-drama worth seeing – a film that recently earned a Golden Globe nomination, as best actor in a drama, for Viggo Mortensen.
It is set in the woodlands of the Pacific Northwest, where Ben Cash (Mortenson), a fiercely independent patriarch, is raising his family as far as he can from the influence of modern consumerist culture.
He fills the days of his six children with rigorous education, demanding physical “philosopher kings” with the cardiovascular and muscular endurance of elite athletes and a grasp of classic texts far beyond their years.
For Matt Ross, the writer and director of Captain Fantastic, the story is an exploration of the choices parents make for their children, he says in the movie’s production notes.
“I am fascinated by all the issues that revolve around parenting,” Ross says. “Ben has given up the outside world and whatever personal ambitions it held for him, to devote his life to being the best father he thinks he can be. The question becomes: is he the best father in the world or the worst? Is what he’s doing insane or insanely great?”
Some of the Cash family’s experiences have roots in Ross’s own upbringing, he explains.
“My mother was interested in alternative living situations,” he says. “When I was a kid, it wasn’t called living ‘off the grid’, but we did live in communes in Northern California and Oregon. We were in the middle of nowhere without television or most modern technology.”
Like the family in Captain Fantastic, Ross’s early life was in some ways a grand adventure and, in others, a dislocating experience for a child.
“It became especially hard during adolescence,” he notes. “I was separated from kids my own age when I started becoming attracted to the opposite sex. My friends were far away.
“I wanted to have that social element in my life. The eldest Cash son, Bo, is at that point in the film, while the younger kids are still finding this life exhilarating.”
Ross admits in the film’s production notes, that in writing the screenplay, he was also grappling with his own questions about how to be a parent in contemporary America.
“Is it intelligent to allow our children to be electronically connected at all times?” he asks.
“You also could ask, is it responsible to allow your kid to play full-contact tackle football, which I played as a kid. There’s a lot of evidence that shows how dangerous it is. You don’t have to live in the woods and go rock climbing with your kids, like Ben does, to take risks.”
The character of Ben is in some ways aspirational for Ross.
“I wish I were brave and selfless enough to give up my creative goals or my career ambitions for my kids. For Ben, whatever he was doing before this, takes second place to the raising of his children. He does it at a cost, and that’s really the movie.”
Ben’s choices are far more extreme than most parents would ever consider. For 10 years, Ben and his family have lived completely off the grid in a remote compound where they hunt and grow their own food.
He and his wife, Leslie, have chosen to bring up their brood in a manner so far from the norm that it poses questions about whether the ends justify the means.
“He does things that you could legitimately argue endanger their lives,” says Ross. “The questions about the best ways to nurture children are very real.”
Those weighty questions aside, Captain Fantastic lives up to reports of it being an exciting, poignant and often humorous adventure, set in part in a rustic wonderland of Ben’s creation, where he and his children celebrate their uncommon achievements, whether they are mastering martial arts or demonstrating their prodigious knowledge of American political thought.
“Making the movie entertaining as well as grounded and honest was always our priority,” says Lynette Howell Taylor, producer of Captain Fantastic.
Also new on DVD are:
Free State of Jones
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mahershala Ali, this 134-minute film is directed by Gary Ross. It tells the story of a disillusioned US Confederate Army deserter who returns to Mississippi and leads a militia of fellow deserters, runaway slaves, and women in an uprising against the corrupt local Confederate government.
Eye in the Sky
A thriller with Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman, under the direction of South African Gavin Hood (who made the Oscar-winning Tsotsi). It tells of Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya. She sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone, triggering a global dispute over the implications of modern warfare.
The Brothers Grimm
This adventure-comedy tells of a new assignment forcing a top spy to team up with his football hooligan brother. Directed by Louis Leterrier, the film stars Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong and the delightful Rebel Wilson. The screenplay is co-written by Cohen and Phil Johnston.