Captain Fantastic. (15.)
Directed by Matt Ross.
Starring Viggo Mortensen, George McKay, Samantha Isler, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, and Frank Langella. 119 mins.
Viggo Mortensen is Captain Fantastic, a counter culture figure raising his family of six kids in the wilds of the Rockies and teaching them survival skills; the classics of literature and philosophy; and to think for themselves. Which all sounds like something Viggo Mortensen would do. Then he hears that his hospitalised wife has died and his father in law, Langella, will call the police if he attempts to attend the funeral: which sounds like a thing Langella would do. So it's time for a road trip in the family bus – because that is how eccentric outsiders resolve things in Hollywood films.
The trailers make this seem like a kooky road trip comedy drama and the audience I saw it with were happy to take it as such, laughing loudly as these highly articulate but social awkward children trying to interact with the products of mainstream corporate America. Movie goers love an outsider, as long as they are confined to the movie and Ross's film is beautifully shot and immaculately played by a talented cast of young unknowns and experienced screen talents.
It is though a slippery beast, an exercise in testing what extremes audiences will accept if it is presented to them in a gentle conventional form. The film begins with the oldest child (Brit McKay, excellent as ever) killing a deer and eating its heart as a rite of passage test. The other son has a picture of Pol Pot stuck to his cabin wall. Fundamentally, they are the Unabomber equivalent of the Partridge family. Ross clearly writes him as a deeply ambivalent figure – his critique of capitalism is reasonable enough but his alternative seems to be a form of fanaticism, albeit one couched in terms of free expression and equality. The plot has him in the good guy role, and the audience willingness to simply accept him in the role is a little alarming.
As I was watching the film it occurred to me that there was no way the film could end satisfactorily. If Langella gets custody of the children it would undermine the film's anti-capitalist method, but having the family drive off triumphantly into the wilderness would disregard its edginess. I couldn't see beyond those two choices, but Ross could (or, at least I think he could.) The conclusion he has come up is deeply and satisfyingly ambiguous.