Captain Fantastic :: Beautifully Subversive, Profoundly Moving…

Cineville ratings
Review contains negligible amount of spoiler, but not nearly as much as the trailer, which I would advise you not to watch. Watch the film!

Captain Fantastic is a beautifully subversive film about a man and his six children living off-grid in America, and their efforts to respect the final wishes of their Buddhist wife and mother.

Viggo Mortensen is father Ben, who trains and home-schools his kids to survive in the woods where they live. We see them hunting and killing animals, reading and critiquing works of classic literature and philosophy, enduring military-style physical training and making music together, like a weird and wonderful amalgamation of the families Von Trapp and Manson.

Captain Fantastic hand-drawn poster

Then we see them attempting to mix in with mainstream society, which requires skills and knowledge they have yet to learn.

Ben’s philosophy versus the philosophy of mainstream America is at the heart of the film and your enjoyment of the film will probably depend on your own feelings on the subject. Those that ‘hated it’ on IMDb particularly hated the film’s casual mockery of Christianity and consumerism and its openness as regards sex and nudity. ‘There is no justification for showing penis in a comedy film,’ wrote one. ‘That’s what pornography is for.’

I disagree. On many levels. Mostly I disagree that Captain Fantastic is a comedy. It’s a serious film, damning of the excesses and weaknesses of the western world. It's extremely moving too, and exciting. I find subversion very exciting. 

Captain Fantastic poster

I really fell in love with this film, and with all the family. And I adore Ben, even when he gets it wrong or goes too far, as he frequently does. I adore his righteous indignation in the face of spoilt, slow-witted, self-medicating America. I enjoyed his eloquent disdain, with its echoes of Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast.

What’s particularly great about the film is that it shows both sides of the argument. Ben’s sister and their family are appalled at Ben’s point-blank refusal to sugar-coat reality or talk down to his kids, and their disgust is at times understandable. Ben is, at times, infuriating and by any conventional standards, utterly insane. But he’s also a paragon of paternal love and a living embodiment of this Noam Chomsky quote, which features in the film:

‘If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.’

The performances are fantastic, particularly George MacKay as the eldest son Bodevan. (MacKay is also brilliant in Sunshine On Leith and Pride, two of the most moving films of the past few years, and he’s only 24. Oh, the places he’ll go.)

The film also features the greatest and most emotional version of a Guns ‘N’ Roses song you will ever hear and a very, very moving funeral. Also, the final lingering shot - of nothing really happening, but everything really happening - if you’re fully immersed, is glorious. 

My favourite film of 2016.


Cineville - The Movies
Cineville - Filmhallen


The Viewings

So good I saw it twice. Actually, I had to see it twice because at the first viewing, seconds before the first frame flickered onto the screen, the fire alarm went off. After a few moments of disbelief, someone popped out of the screening room to check that it was really happening. It was really happening. A fire in a cinema. Something I’d never experienced, and frankly had no desire to.

So as the camera swept across the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest, we shuffled out of the room and into a crush of frustrated cinemagoers. We got as far as the bar when the alarm stopped ringing and we were asked to make our way back inside. By which time, Bodevan was a man, and literally covered in blood.

So I had to see it again. But also, I really wanted to, and with the Cineville card, it’s totally free! I’d be a fool not to. And I loved it just as much the second time, and because it was a sparsely populated afternoon showing, I was able to give way to the emotion much more freely. Yes indeed. I wept like Jesus.

For the second viewing, and for the first time, I went to Filmhallen, which is part of ‘de hallen’ in general, a converted tram depot that now houses restaurants, a food court, a hotel and lots of arty stuff and occasionally stalls and a giant old movie camera that people sit in pose with for photographs. Plus nine screening rooms.

The staff as usual were charming and attractive, and the seats as usual were spacious and comfortable. All in all, 10/10. A classic afternoon cinema experience, marred only slightly by the fact that when I returned to my bike, which was parked in the rather swish underground parking facility, it had a flat back tyre, so I had to walk home with it in the drizzle, and now I’ll have to buy a pump.

What a world.


Cineville - Uitkijk


Yep, I saw it a third time. A friend wanted to see it and it was my pleasure to join her. This time at the Uitkijk, where because of my friend's deep-rooted entrapment issues, I had to sit for one of the first times in my life at the very back of the cinema. 

I didn't care for it. You can hear the coffee being made through the wall. I didn't care for it at all. I prefer to sit in the first or second row. Full immersion. 

The film was still great though. 

I recommend it. 

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I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you’ll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven’t already.

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