Captain Fantastic chronicles the lives of the Cash family, who are led back into society by their left-wing anarchist activist father, Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen), after living in isolation for a decade.
The movie opens with an unexplained ritual hunt, in which the eldest of the Cash children, Bodevan (George MacKay), kills a deer with nothing more than a knife to celebrate his manhood. His five siblings emerge, camouflaged in mud, to celebrate alongside their brother and father.
Ben’s wife and the children’s mother, Leslie, is absent, and the Cash family soon receive news that she has committed suicide while being treated for a mental illness. The children are distraught, and wish to attend their mother’s funeral.
After some hesitation, Ben relents and sets off with his children to prevent their Buddhist mother’s Christian funeral from going ahead. Despite the children’s rigorous mental and physical education regime, they find themselves woefully unprepared for society, and Ben is faced with the consequences for his choices as both a parent and a husband.
It’s a beautiful film, for many reasons. The first is that it’s undoubtedly the story of a father’s love for his children, and his wish that they grow to be fiercely intelligent and independent, and the dynamic between Cash and his children is truly something to behold. Mortensen is able to perfectly capture the essence of the man as he grapples with some of life’s toughest challenges, and it’s a performance that rightfully earned him an Academy Award nomination. Cash, as a character, is intelligent, relatable and deeply flawed, but Mortensen is able to command a sense of presence that elevates him beyond the hippy widower on screen, and Ben Cash begins to feel more like a folk hero than just a father of six children in a bus named Steve.
The movie doesn’t just belong to Mortensen, though. No, there’s great performances from each and every one of the actors playing the Cash children, with George MacKay in particular hitting the mark at every turn.
Outside of the acting, though, Captain Fantastic has much to offer in a narrative sense. Boiled down, it’s an examination of grief, and the grief of the Cash family manifests in numerous ways, each one interacting with the others as the family threatens to tear itself apart. The message is subtextual yet powerful; no matter how intelligent you are, or how strong or self-sufficent, pain will find a way in, and the only way to process it is to lean on those you love.
It’s a movie filled with quirks and unexpected comedy, but there’s a strong emotional core too, driven by a number of truly brilliant performances. It’s hard to fully sell the movie to those who haven’t watched it, but it’s every bit as unique and heartfelt as you could hope for.
Summary: Inspiring, gut-wrenching and thought-provoking all at once, Captain Fantastic is a powerful exploration of love, family and fatherhood, brought to life in emphatically colourful fashion by a remarkable ensemble.