As tranquil and fluid the natural world is, living in it is prehistoric. Away from technology and the benefits of modernity, those that wish to live off-grid and out of sight are in for a hard-fought battle. Against themselves, against nature and against the quality of life they may have grown accustomed to before starting to hunt their food and live in treehouses. Captain Fantastic is a decent encapsulation of that. Living in the forests for so long has left this family out of touch with the modern world, and Matt Ross directs this feature in a way that compares them to prisoners. They have not been locked away but removed from the working world, and the influences that would normally be founded in their day to day lives.
They have created their own way of living. Washing in rivers, hunting and gathering. There is still fun to be had away from technology. If anything, Captain Fantastic hopes to prove that this way of life is liveable, should audience members choose to give up their phone and their slippers and their bedding. Out into the wild, with just homemade materials and a few bits of cutlery to your name. The realism of this life and the little rituals that Viggo Mortensen’s father figure, Ben Cash, has created for his six children, is the glue that holds the feature together. Without that believability, Ross is at risk of falling away into a complex and methodical world that presents a desperate attempt at capturing what Alaskan Bush People failed to capture.
Love for the wilderness is one thing, but to live and survive in it is entirely different. Performances from George Mackay as Bodevan Cash and Shree Cooks as Zaja Cash show that rehabilitation into the real world will be a slow and risky one. The behaviour of the wilderness assimilated into desk jobs and bustling streets. Their performances are exceptional and provide depth to the peace and tranquillity this family has been guarded by. Regrouping in the real world sends mixed signals, but Ross handles them brilliantly. His direction is intriguing, but not out of the ordinary. His shot-reverse-shot adds an extra layer here or there with its quick cuts and shaky style, but at its core, it is the simplicity that guides all drama features
Community spirit is ground out and pushed forward into a world completely alien to those who have enjoyed a simple and free life. Captain Fantastic is an interesting study of Amish-like technicality. They are given a glimpse into the real world, and it is their choice whether they wish to stay or not. Mortensen is not preventing his children from seeing the dark side of the world, but what is dangerous and confusing to them is a passive way of life for the usual audience members. At times, Captain Fantastic leans on the down-the-nose view “ordinary folk” have of those choosing a different way of life, but never makes it the central focus of its meaning. “Stick it to the man,” Ben says as his children serenade a cop off of their family bus. Awkward and strange bits of comedy have new meaning when they are a normal fixation for a family like this, and the performers behind this flock provide such an incredibly convincing piece of work.