This is my review of Captain Fantastic [DVD].
This is an entertaining, by turns funny, and moving, bittersweet yarn about an anarchic, left-wing, “hippy” bringing up his six children in a remote, beautiful Rocky Mountain setting. Although the endurance programmes and survival skills training designed to develop self-sufficiency in the wild at times seem close to the child abuse of which his father-in-law accuses him, home schooling has made his offspring remarkably well-read, perceptive and questioning. Their annual celebration of “Noam Chomsky” Day, as no more ludicrous than Christmas, the bracketing together of Christianity and capitalism as the root evils of Western society, smack of brainwashing – although when one sees American consumerism through their eyes, they have a point. The nagging question is of course how they will fare if and when they have to re-enter a world in which they will often appear naïve, ignorant of basic norms and, as the eldest son at one point observes, freakish.
Matters come to a head when they receive news that their mentally sick mother who has been forced to return to the outside world for medical treatment has committed suicide.
Despite suffering from the director’s inability to resist somewhat contrived, exaggerated and extreme situations, the film causes us to question our conventional values and ways of living, and to ask how far one can and should go in forging an “alternative life style” for one’s children? To what extent is it “abuse”, even permanently damaging, to make one’s children “too different”? On the other hand, the film exposes the hollowness of our materialistic society. Why is it acceptable for children to play violent computer games, but not work as a team to kill, dismember and cook a deer for food? How can one put one’s own desire for conventional respectability above a daughter’s wish for a Buddhist cremation and ironical flushing of ashes down the toilet?
The photography is beautiful, the storyline compelling, but I was frustrated that my ear was not sufficiently attuned to quick-fire American drawl to catch all the dialogue.