I HAVE DREAMT that it might be possible to raise my child in the woods, off the grid, to spare her this modern cultural hellscape filled with guns and Trumps. The fictitious Cash family, headed by Ben (Viggo Mortensen), gives us a taste of that life—good or bad, depending on how attached you are to warm showers and iPhones—in the sweet, funny, and overall wonderful Captain Fantastic.
One of the first things we see is a gory scene in which Ben’s teenage son catches and slaughters a deer. Ben then smears blood on his son’s face and proclaims him a man. The five other children ferally whoop and jump around in an idyllic Ewok village of a home nestled in the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest. Then they read advanced literature and sing songs around a campfire. (Please keep reading. This movie really isn’t as obnoxious as I’m making it sound.) When real life happens—the mom dies—these brilliant, dirty misfits have to wander out into the real world. Their genius shocks the general public, whose fatness and ignorance shocks them. Ben has to accept that some crappy life shit cannot be escaped, or conquered with an old-timey weapon, or outsmarted by Noam Chomsky quotes, or outplayed by brute physical strength earned by grueling physical training and a ton of burpees. (Many aspects of this life would not be for me.)
Here Mortensen has a beard 10 times scruffier than Aragorn’s, but the same tortured grimace that comes with being the guy who has to do stuff. And unlike Aragorn, Ben fucks up sometimes: He’s not king of men. He’s just a guy trying to do something different for his kids.
While one may roll his/her eyes at this idealized white person Whole Foods fantasy life, the film’s charm and heart wins over the haters. Christ, I enjoyed a rendition of "Sweet Child o’ Mine" toward the end. I don’t get it either. But just like I know I’ll never give foraging for food a real shot, I know I’ll keep thinking about this movie, and dreaming.