‘Captain Fantastic’ explores a quirky family and consumer culture


Director Matt Ross has a winner in the delightfully quirky “Captain Fantastic.”

The movie stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben, a left-wing father who is raising his family in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, where he’s home-schooling them in the ways of anti-capitalist, anti-fascist thought. His big hero is Noam Chomsky, and the family celebrates Noam Chomsky Day rather than Christmas. All the kids long for a serrated gutting knife, knowing that they’ll one day be required to stalk a deer and kill it, thus becoming a grownup.

These kids are smart. They’re physically fit. They can survive in the wilderness. And they have elaborate routines to fill their day, with plenty of reading time. Even the young ones are reading books like Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” And one young woman is reading “Lolita” and being asked to analyze its morality, especially that of the older man who seduces the young girl.

It’s fascinating to watch, but you begin to wonder where the mother is. It turns out that she has bipolar disorder and has moved back in with her parents in the American Southwest. But even this attempt to seek treatment doesn’t work, and she ends up slashing her wrists.

Ben tells his children the truth, and they’re devastated, of course. But Ben and his merry troupe decide that they must attend the mother’s funeral, so they hop into an old bus and begin venturing out into civilization. And that’s where the real fun begins, as the children marvel at everyone being overweight.

The movie strikes a delicate balance between some of the children who are fascinated by video games and others who are fascinated by the variety of choices at a restaurant. But the most touching moments involve the older son, Bo (George Mackay), who has no idea how to respond to a young woman’s flirting. It reveals what the kids have been missing, and it’s a beautifully handled scene.

The big problem for the family is this: The mother’s parents, played by Frank Langella and Ann Dowd, want to have a proper funeral and traditional burial for their daughter. But Ben has his wife’s will, and she wants to be cremated and have her ashes flushed down a public toilet. This doesn’t sit well with the parents.

The oddball family arrives at the funeral, and fireworks ensue.

Ross not only directs but also wrote the screenplay. It’s wonderfully funny, full of little kids quoting philosophers and the great thinkers of the past. It makes you wonder about our educational system, even while making you also wonder about the merits of raising children in the wilderness — far from the socializing influences of public or private school.

Whatever your views, the dialogue is crisp, and the performances are excellent, even from the little kids. It’s full frontal nudity, so this isn’t for the whole family. It is, however, a perfect film for anyone who questions the values of consumer culture.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Movies & TV

Lisa Marie Presley sues ex-manager contending he lost her $100 million fortune
Lisa Marie Presley sues ex-manager contending he lost her $100 million fortune

Lisa Marie Presley is suing her former manager, Barry Siegel, for “reckless and negligent mismanagement” of her inherited estate, but her estranged husband was quick to call her so-called mountain of debt a lie. >> Read more trending news  Presley inherited $100 million from her rock ‘n’ roll father Elvis Presley...
What does cream of tartar do? And other food questions answered
What does cream of tartar do? And other food questions answered

The Washington Post Food staff recently answered questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat. A: Yes, the easiest thing would be to freeze the juice and the zest (separately). - Joe Yonan A: Cream of tartar shows up in retro baking recipes because, as an acid, it helps activate baking soda. (Baking powder combines the...
Recipe of the Week: Meat-free polenta ‘steaks’ with mushroom gravy
Recipe of the Week: Meat-free polenta ‘steaks’ with mushroom gravy

Chicken-fried steak is one of the ultimate comfort foods, but if you’re eating less meat, it can be difficult — at first — to replicate those rich flavors without beef. ”Modern Comfort Cooking” author Lauren Grier didn’t let that stop her. Chicken-fried steak “is something I plunge into on a semi-annual basis...
Britney Spear’s ex K-Fed wants child support increase amid star’s Vegas success
Britney Spear’s ex K-Fed wants child support increase amid star’s Vegas success

After seeing how successful her four-year Las Vegas residency has been, Britney Spears’ ex-husband Kevin Federline is asking for an increase in child support. >> Read more trending news  Federline’s attorney reportedly sent the pop singer a letter recently indicating that he would like to renegotiate the $20...
Actress Nanette Fabray, Tony, Emmy-winning star of stage and screen, dead at 97
Actress Nanette Fabray, Tony, Emmy-winning star of stage and screen, dead at 97

Award-winning actress and comedian Nanette Fabray has died at the age of 97, Variety reported Friday. Fabray was known for her charm, energetic exuberance and multi-talented performances in musical theatre in the 1940’s, as well as movies and TV in the 1950’s. >> Read more trending news  She won a Tony Award for her performance...
More Stories