In the current political climate, many of the governmental actions have left a majority of the population in the United States despondent over the state of our nation. A blanket of corrupt capitalism, greed, and an overall lack of professionalism on Capitol Hill continues to smother the hope and choke the optimism from parents, caregivers, and children; it knows no class, age, gender, or race. At times, it seems as though this toxic environment that our government has become will lead to the inevitable downfall of not only the ideas on which the United States was established, but also on those we have come to endorse over generations: empathy, acceptance, love, and understanding. In an ideal world, an escape from politics would prove a saving grace for humanity.
In Matt Ross’s 2014 film, Captain Fantastic, Ben Cash and his six children do just this.
Cash, played by actor Viggo Mortensen, and his wife Leslie decide to move their family of eight into a self-sustained homestead in the Washington Mountains. The children are homeschooled, live without technology, and rely completely on each other for survival. Having refused the bureaucratic capitalism that dominated mainstream society, the pair raised their children in values of liberal philosophers and humanitarians. Having sought escape from the oppressive society in which they previously perpetuated, Cash and Leslie have created a kind of paradise all their own, deep within the untamed wild of Washington. Everything is perfect for the Cash family in their own bubble of learning and support. Then, the unthinkable happens.
After receiving a phone call, Cash leaves his family’s sanctuary and ventures into urban New Mexico in order to visit his wife, who has been staying in a mental hospital while dealing with suicidal ideation associated with bipolar disorder. Although viewers never meet Leslie
Cash, it is implied that while she initiated her family’s move to the mountains, she has spent several months struggling with her mental health in a treatment facility prior to the beginning of the film. Upon his return to his children in Washington, Cash announces that Leslie has taken her own life, and that their maternal grandparents do not wish for Cash and his children to attend her funeral. However, as Cash notes, Leslie was a Buddhist and wished to be cremated upon her death; as Leslie’s parents are strict Christians, they intend to host a traditional service with a burial. Feeling compelled to honor her request, Cash and his children embark to New Mexico on “Operation: Rescue Mom.”
Much of the film chronicles the Cash family’s journey into mainstream society in their efforts to fulfill Leslie’s last wishes. During this time, the family must rely on their intense bonds with each other as they struggle to navigate a foreign world of virtual violence and materialism.
Over the course of the film, several of Cash’s children question his teachings and their way of life in comparing it to that of their grandparents and cousins. Ultimately, Cash must reconcile with his decisions to raise his family sans technology.
Captain Fantastic is not only a touching story of human loss and redemption, but also one of the power of family and its many facets. Viggo Mortensen portrays the subtle complexities associated with regret, caring, hopelessness, and family so artfully; his acting is not overbearing so much as it creates a multilayered character with an idealistic worldview who must face reality, and with it anguish, doubt, and grief. Writer Matt Ross excellently highlights the intricacies in the unique family dynamic shared by the Cashes, while also injecting bits of realism that allow viewers to sympathize with the many challenges that Ben and his children face throughout the film. Additionally, the portrayal of a family completely separated from the technology that isolates us forces viewers to question their lives. Can a family living in such isolation be more in touch with human emotion than those who are caught in society’s web? This question prompts a critical analysis of our modern lifestyle; inventions intended to bring us together often erect invisible walls between us.
Captain Fantastic is an incredibly well produced story of the bonds that hold families together, and the hope and strength that emanate from them in times of strife. As visually striking as it is thought provoking, Captain Fantastic is a modern film that forces us to question our motives in this age of technology, capitalism, corruption, and overall hopelessness, while also providing shining rays of faith for humanity throughout.