Captain Fantastic

To whom does a person belong? To themselves? To family or friends? To their ideas? Religion? Work? Country? To God?

We belong to whom we choose to belong. We are as free as we choose to be. We can choose to belong to no one but ourselves, to follow our passions, chase our dreams, realize our potential not beholden to anyone or anything but our own ideals.Yes, there are always “powers”—political, institutional, interpersonal, commercial, medical, intellectual, etc.—that impact our lives, but ultimately, every person decides how to react to those powers. The spirit and mind of a man in prison can be free if he inwardly rejects the bars on his cell, the system that put him in that cell, and the laws that govern that system.

But we can also be free. Freedom, Christ teaches us, is found in surrendering our will to God and to others. Freedom is being poured out on behalf of others. The less personal initiative we exercise, and the more sacrificial love we practice, the more truly free we become. Life is a matter of negotiating between these kinds of freedom.

Captain Fantastic is a movie about a family that is radically free from the conventions of contemporary society. They live in the woods in Washington, kill and grow their own food, teach themselves by reading and debating amongst themselves, and train their bodies to accomplish any physical feat required of them. They are a quirky family in a quirky film trying to figure out how to continue their life together in the absence of their mother, Leslie, who has recently left them.

The patriarch of this family, Ben (a quiet yet powerful and emotive Viggo Mortensen), is having the hardest time navigating his family’s new wife-less, mother-less state. He becomes more committed than ever to living according to his family’s convictions, but increasingly this complicates things for his kids. He has to decide what is better – what he believes is right for his family or what other people believe is right.

Captain Fantastic is as heartwarming a film as I have seen in a long time, perhaps since Little Miss Sunshine. It’s packed with funny characters, real brokenness, and entertaining situations. It’s a “make you laugh and make you cry” kind of film scored by Jonsi and backdropped by the jaw-dropping Cascade Mountain Range in Northern Washington.

The family’s journey eventually takes them to Arizona where they interact with their missing mother’s parents. They live in a palatial, country club manse. On the surface, their life looks starkly different than the family’s wooded life. But look closely. Grandfather’s study features taxadermied hunting trip kills, and the couches and chairs are all made of leather. He keeps swords and knives and bows and arrows on the walls and plays hunting video games in his spare time. He’s not that different than Ben. He’s just living a suburban version of Ben’s idealic wilderness life. (Many girls do tend to marry versions of their father, after all.)

This set decoration undermines any assumption we might have been making that Ben’s family’s life is somehow “better” than the lives of the suburban people they mock. Actually, the family only mocks Christians, one of the daughters reminds the rest of the family, because they believe religion is the most damaging lie that anyone can believe. But they shouldn’t mock anyone, this set decoration suggests. People are essentially the same even if they read different books and eat different kinds of food. Our ideals don’t matter as much as it matters how we treat each other. Because ultimately, we belong to each other. Or at least we should.

Captain Fantastic is being featured in the Premiere category at Sundance, so you should expect to see it in a theater near you soon.