Film Review: Captain Fantastic Questions How We Raise Children

 People are constantly seeking answers on how to do their best with the hardest job: parenting. Just entering the bestsellers section of Barnes and Noble, you will find that every other book is either about being a better person or becoming a better parent.  Captain Fantastic challenges standard, social perceptions of what a good person and parent is, while analyzing how the two intertwine.

Directed by Matt Ross, Captain Fantastic follows Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and his family as they live in a small cabin in the woods. He has six children whom he homeschools and teaches survival methods that make you want to be next to them if a Zombie Apocalypse hits. They are strong, agile, and incredibly smart children that by age 6 have their own guns and are reading Brother Karamazov. Their advancement and penchant for violence might be a little rough for people to absorb. On one hand, I love the idea of letting a child observe and analyze life’s philosophies, and if they are young and capable, why not? Yet, when you see these children opening crossbows, machetes, and guns with wide-eyed excitement, you cringe, at least, I did.

The film is set as the children grow accustomed to the loss of their  mentally- ill mother and head on a road trip to her funeral.  These scenes on the road  lighten the, at times, darkness and discomfort of the film. While no one can deny the love Ben has for his kids and the amazing things he has done with them, you still feel like, something is missing. When his children are compared to their cousins in a family reunion, you die of laughter at seeing the bright intellect of Ben’s home-schooled six year old daughter compared to her pre-teened, video-game loving cousins. It is no secret that America’s educational system has some deep-seeded issues. Yet, the inability of these 13 year old boys to answer what the Bill of Rights is, which they were currently learning, or have a thoughtful opinion on any subject will have everyone clamoring for school over-haul. It is in these scenes, that you understand why Ben has taken his children’s lives in his own hands. They are very advanced and vulnerable with their heartfelt perceptions of the globe. Though you admire the inquisitiveness and honesty of Ben’s children, you wonder how happy can they be or will they remain when they leave their “family bubble”?

Viggo Mortensen gives one of the best performances of his career, which allows you to digest the madness that is Ben. On one hand, you applaud his ideas of healthy living and wish he could run every school in America. Yet, on the other hand, you feel the children are being held captive by their dad. For however free Ben claims they are to be their own person, if they want pancakes, he looks at them crazily, or if they want to celebrate Christmas, he degrades them? Furthermore, these children have no social skills. For all that they can recite War and Peace and discuss Socrates, when it comes to being vulnerable with others beyond their family, they seem stumped. Hence, why audiences may find them slightly joyless? Yes, they are happy, healthy, and philosophical, but they are oddly coddled and shaded from the world that they could survive physically but could not live socially?

I walked out of Captain Fantastic believing there had to be a middle-ground on the best ways to raise children, and, by the end, you see Ben agree. He becomes more open to the children going to school and making friends beyond the family, which left me feeling comforted. For me, the relationships you hold in this world can be both your greatest education and experiences. Thus, Ben’s growing “change of heart” leaves me hopeful that he will guide the children to both survive and thrive in the world. Ultimately, I was happy to see Captain Fantastic not glorify or diminish either parenting strategy. While Ben’s hermit life was attractive and had many fruitful attributes over the “typical American family’s” portrayal, you walk out feeling like being the best parent is a balancing act.

Captain Fantastic Comes Out on July 8, and I would recommend it for anyone interest in psychology, child-rearing, or seeking a film experience that will challenge their intellection perceptions. Click Here the Official Website.