Monday, September 19, 2016

Captain Fantastic (2016)

It's been a long time since I've seen anything so committed to an ideal of going off the grid and living on the land. Viggo Mortensen has a bravura role here as Ben, who lives with his six children in a rain forest in the Pacific Northwest, home schooling them in book knowledge and survival skills both. The plot turns on the suicide of his wife and the mother of their children. We only see her in glimpses in flashbacks. Her ultra-conventional family—for that matter, his family too—suspect something about their wild woods adventure lifestyle led to her end, while Ben is certain it was untreated mental illness. Maybe that's the same difference? Anyway, the plot turns specifically on the attempt of Ben and the kids to recover her body and dispose of it as she said she wanted and specified in her will. This unfortunately leads to highly charged confrontations between hippies and straights that play out predictably for the most part. More than once I thought I might be looking at Billy Jack again. A few plot points are so contrived I'm surprised they didn't just make them musical numbers. It is often smug and glib about the family's strange lifestyle—they celebrate Noam Chomsky Day instead of Christmas, and in one scene Ben is wearing a Jesse Jackson '88 t-shirt, among other clonking points that arrive on a regular basis. Yet there's no denying something about it is effective too. I hope it's not just my weakness for seeing people take it to The Man, though I admit that probably makes me more indulgent. At the very least, it raises issues that deserve an airing (raises them all too conveniently, I know). Hippies had a good point 50 years ago about living sustainably on this planet, with respect and justice for all, and they still do today, in an era that more and more feels like formal giving up and partying to the dawn, until the shitstorm comes down that we all think might be coming. After Mortensen, Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon, Robot & Frank) gets top billing in Captain Fantastic. He's got a great performance too as Ben's father-in-law and a certain embodiment of The Man. Otherwise, be prepared for rampant wincing, impulses to cheer, and a few times when the waterworks might go. Sounds like a good old-fashioned time at the movies, but actually it's more kind of a strange one. Anyway, it motivated me to add The Emerald Forest to my Netflix queue—I remember liking it more than most people, and more than this.

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