We’d all be a lot happier, wrote Plato, if government overseers were philosopher-kings, rulers who also loved wisdom. Turns out that political hyphenate, an aspirational theme in Captain Fantastic, is much easier to execute on paper than in reality. Figuring out which “real world” is the viable one is at the heart of this movie, written and directed by Matt Ross.
Protagonist Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) thinks he’s got it right. He’s the suddenly single father to a brood of six – all uniquely named and ranging in age from about 6 to 18 – who live in a yurt, train in survivalist skills, hunt their own meals, receive weapons as gifts, and get really superior homeschooling in a candlelit environment in the Pacific Northwest that’s so pristine you can almost smell the pine emanating from the forest they call home.
On a day to day basis, there’s no room for error. Home and work areas are as neat as a pin, with schedules as detailed and precise as the youngsters’ book analyses. The kids express their liberal views freely, including Power-to-the-People shout-outs. Despite Ben’s philosopher-king leanings – also embraced by Leslie, his recently deceased wife and the children’s mother, who appears briefly in flashbacks – he’s often a hardcore CEO of his own children, rather than a visionary. In other words, a lot of Saturnine rules also live at the compound. And Ben has no qualms about Sticking-It-to-the-Man through thieving and lying, having instructed his children in both strategies. There’s room in the yurt for the Mercurial Trickster, too.
Although Ben’s tutelage works well in the reality of wooded isolation and confinement, things go awry when Leslie’s father (Frank Langella) – he blames his non-mainstream son-in-law for keeping his bi-polar daughter in a locale not conducive to her healing – forbids Ben and his six-pack-offspring from attending the funeral, a threat Ben ignores. Here’s where Ben and his kids have to confront the “other” reality, populated by people who criticize Ben’s child-rearing practices. One critical voice belongs to his own child Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton). A quieter opposing force is the oldest child Bo (George MacKay), whose awkwardness around the opposite sex is cringeworthy, as he nurses a huge desire to break dad’s mold by leaving home to attend college.
Captain Fantastic presents a scenario in which a strategy for philosopher-king living – unifying one’s mental and self-organizing qualities – often turns into dyadic either-or mush. Ben’s surname is a reminder that his Archetypal Father pose is not always so purely philosophical as he thinks. He steals, after all.
This archetypally rich film begins with a ceremonial anointing of Bo into manhood by Ben who, by the film’s end, is faced with revising the rituals that have served him for so long. A recipe for right living that works well in an isolated locale that’s relatively free of “civilization” is severely challenged in another geography or, at least, the possibility of one.
Archetype: Father. CEO. Ruler. King. Trickster. Isolationist. Purist. Rebel.
Astrology Archetype: ☉ ☿ ♄ ♅ (Sun, Mercury, Saturn, Uranus)