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Captain Fantastic is the anti-establishment film we need right now

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“Power to the people, stick it to the man.” 

This powerful mantra sums up the philosophy of life Ben Cash and his wife have imparted to their children whilst raising them out in the forest of the Pacific Northwest, away from civilisation and its corrupted ways. This is the set up of one of last year’s best films, Matt Ross’ second feature, Captain Fantastic.

It is first heard when the patriarch of this unconventional family, portrayed by the amazing Viggo Mortensen with incredible charisma, decides to listen to his children’s plea and drives the whole gang in their caravan back to the civilised world on a mission to “rescue” his recently deceased wife from the kind of artificial send off she would have never wanted.

As the film progresses, the mantra is reiterated a few times by his children, even at the very end, because although they might’ve reached a compromise between their lifestyle and the ways of the world, that lesson is now part of the Cash gang’s DNA. 

That’s exactly the reason why Captain Fantastic is the film that many of us need right now after having to endure, in my opinion, the bleak, nationalistic, quasi-fascist inauguration speech of the new US President, who hasn’t wasted a minute of his fresh mandate and has already started undoing the good things achieved by the previous administration.

I had amply praised writer/director Matt Ross upon reviewing the film (read that here) for the theatrical release back in September and re-watching it six month later on a splendid Blu-ray copy in my living room only reinforced my feelings. Many are in fact the moments of pure bliss this little gem delivers and seeing it again in such a dark socio-political world climate made its inspirational message resonate even more than the first time around.

At the core, this is a family drama about the challenges of parenthood aka the most underrated job in the world. Ross has created a utopian heaven where this father isn’t necessarily shielding his children from the horror of the world. He’s giving them a healthier lifestyle whilst training them to be able to rely on nothing else but their own resources in order to survive in life. However as his eldest son Bo (George MacKay) transitions into adulthood and pre-teen Rellian (promising newcomer Nicholas Hamilton) is tempted by the fun of the modern world, our protagonist begins to realise that his plan is indeed pure utopia.

The film touches on many delicate and current topics, from respecting the environment to being enslaved to consumerism. The eccentric family celebrates “Chomsky day” rather than Christmas and the Cash kids are equally prepared when it comes to surviving in the wild and being knowledgeable in any possible cultural topic.

There’s a funny yet powerful scene where Ben proves that his ways are actually good for his chidren. He quizzes his teenage nephews who go to school on the Bill Of Rights and they can barely give a haphazard definition whereas his little daughter can recite it by heart and eloquently discuss it. And he is undeniably right – true knowledge is power.

Yet conflict arises since Ben needs to realise and accept how his kids, once grown up, will eventually have to choose the kind of life they want for themselves and there’s nothing he can do to stop them. For instance, despite being proud of Bo when the boy reveals to have applied and been accepted in every single ivy league college in America, Ben has trouble understanding “what the hell those people are going to teach him”. But Bo loses it and screams that his father has turned him and his siblings into freaks: “unless it comes from a fucking book he doesn’t know anything about anything”.

Even with the flaws of the case, there’s no denying Ben has raised his kids well, teaching them to always speak their mind and tell the truth, even if sometimes that truth is harsh. The great message of Captain Fantastic is that you can’t get away from all the bad in the world – you’re bound to face it in order to find your place within the chaos.

That’s why this film is the perfect watch in the current climate of frustration, outrage and disorientation. Ben’s son Rellian, sums it all up in a wise-beyond-his-years outburst: “If you assume 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.”

I would’ve loved to see Captain Fantastic gain multiple Oscar nominations this week. Yet, the fact that in such a competitive cinematic year, Viggo Mortensen managed to score his second Academy Award nomination is a testament to an original and inspired piece of film-making that managed to fight its way through awards season’s mayhem and deservedly earn a little piece of spotlight.

I no longer care for awards, especially after working within the heart of the industry and witnessing first hand how the political mechanisms behind the whole machine don’t necessarily acknowledge the best work. There is however a silver lining in this whole yearly shenanigans of industry people patting each other’s backs (even if through grinding teeth sometimes). Little films and emerging talent are those who can truly benefit from the exposure in order to further their careers.

That one Oscar nomination, although benefiting the most high profile name and sole star of the film, is actually a powerful way to bring attention to a filmmaker at his sophomore feature and to a young cast of unknowns or relatively so. British thespian on-the-rise George Mackay for instance, in his inspired turn as the eldest of the Cash kids, has had a precious chance to solidify his ever-growing presence in American projects. Whereas young Aussie native Nicholas Hamilton was a true find as rebellious pre-teen Rellian and the attention has earned him a spot in the upcoming new cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s IT.

At this upcoming weekend’s Screen Actors Guild Awards Captain Fantastic is also nominated for Best Ensemble and although unlikely to win, such awards buzz has been a timely opportunity to reach out to a wider audience now that the film has just been released on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download. Don’t miss it!

We have also got a competition to win the film on Blu-ray.

Captain Fantastic Blu-ray & Prize Pack Give-A-Way

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