Captain Fantastic

In spite of its title, Captain Fantastic has nothing to do with superheroes. Its protagonist is Ben Cash, who is raising his six children in the wilderness, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. He’s not a superhero, just an iconoclast.

With the noble goal of raising “philosopher-kings”, Ben is authoritarian yet honest to a fault, teaching athleticism, strength of character, and skepticism of capitalism, religion and popular culture. His kids scale cliffs and rejoice in the gifts of new hunting knives while reading the classic books of literature and political thought.

Then the kids’ mother dies. Ben Cash and his children venture into the alien melee of modern American life, with its shopping centers, ignorance, and separation from nature, to provide his dead wife the funeral she really wanted – a rescue of sorts from the clutches of the world she had fled.

It’s easy to be distracted by the collision of the isolated Cash children with the dominant popular culture. The kids don’t understand social norms, the violence of popular media, the games between young people who are attracted to each other. It’s funny and painful at the same time.

Then there’s the deeper theme, about the consequences of the choices parents make for their children. We all make them, based on our own values that usually conform more or less to the dictates of our cultures, our religions, our education. Ben Cash’s values are in sharp conflict with the dominant culture. As his sons mature they see the real world and prepare for their own places in it, and they inevitably challenge their father’s choices.

I don’t know why this didn’t occur for the daughters in the movie. I was looking for it, and didn’t see it.

And what if, instead of “philosopher-kings”,  Cash was raising his children alone in the wilderness to believe in white supremacy, or conspiracy theories, or something else I don’t believe in? How would that affect my opinion of the movie? Great food for thought!

All along the way there are laughs, complex characters, beautiful photography and gorgeous terrain. The role of Ben seemed perfect for Viggo Mortensen, and the young actors were outstanding. Nobody was the bad guy here; even the kids’ grandfather (Frank Langella), while trying to wrest the kids away from Cash, had only their best interests in mind.

This is a good film, in spite of an ending that seemed out-of-step with the main portion of the story. It works on many levels. I enjoyed it and I’m still thinking about it.

The movie website is at