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DVD Review: Captain Fantastic


DVD Review: Captain Fantastic

By Diane McCurdy

This film despite the title is not about a comic book super hero. It is about a father who has retreated to the wilds of the Oregon hills to live off the land and generally thumb his nose at society in general and capitalism in particular. Of course, Viggo Mortensen could be called super if we were discussing his exceptional acting skills. He delivers a nuanced and sensitive performance and has received nominations in the best actor category from the Screen Actors Guild and from the Hollywood Foreign Press. Always a captivating actor, he is something of an enigma as he is not the red carpet type. His exotic, chaotic background has given him the facility to communicate in six or seven languages. He revels in his Scandinavian roots by celebrating his body in its full frontal glory in this film and in an earlier one, Eastern Promises. He also has a pivotal role as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings

As Ben Cash, the fantastic captain in question, he can he incredibly sensitive and equally cruel. A harsh reality has been introduced into the family’s idyllic, Eden-like setting. The children’s mother who had been hospitalized has died. Ben does not believe in sugar coating anything and soon he tells his brood that their mother has committed suicide by slashing her wrists. This necessitates a road trip to New Mexico where her family lives. There are many adventures along the way where the kids show how brilliantly they have been home-schooled yet how naive they are in the ways of the world. The youngest, barely more than a toddler, is given The Joy of Sex to read when she asks some probing questions. They can recite and explain the Bill of Rights. They can speak Esperanto. Yet the eldest is totally befuddled by his first kiss and doesn’t know how to handle the sensations it brings.

Upon arriving at their destination, Ben finds the kids’ affluent grandfather, Frank Langella, has arranged a religious funeral. Wearing a bright red leisure suit and with one kid wearing what looks to be a gas mask, Ben bristles as his wife was a Buddhist and wanted to be cremated. He disrupts the service which prompts Langella to, reasonably, exert himself to protect his grandchildren and a tug of war over custody ensues and more bizarre events transpire.

The conclusion is, in a sense, more traditional but does not betray Ben’s previous values. He may be living in a house instead of a teepee but the house is full of the wisdom of books. Given the accolade of “Un Certain Regard” at the Cannes film Festival, Captain Fantastic is a funny, poignant intelligent film.