Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, isolated from society, a devoted father (Viggo Mortensen) dedicates his life to transforming his six young children into extraordinary adults. But when a tragedy strikes the family, they are forced to leave this self-created paradise and begin a journey into the outside world that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent and brings into question everything he's taught them.
'Captain Fantastic' tells a story of two extremes and if it's possible to live at either end. Is it conceivable that a family can live separated from society in this globalized world? Or, is it impossible to envision such a dream? That's what Ben (Viggo Mortensen) must come to know.
Ben lives deep in the forest of the Pacific Northwest with his band of six children. They live off the land, study philosophy, learn advanced mathematics, and practice how to skin deer. Ben seemingly has everything covered without subjecting his kids to the capitalist nightmare that awaits them out in the world.
There's an enticing way about their life. If you can manage to get past the water-rationing (one shower a week), ratty clothes, and climbing sheer rock cliffs with a broken hand. There's something liberating about watching someone freed from the shackles of suburbia.
Yet, Ben's plan has an unintended dark side. His children aren't ready for what life is like out there. His oldest son Bo (George MacKay) is painfully socially awkward. He's smart as a whip and has been accepted to every ivy league college in the country, but when it comes to personal communication with those outside his family, he's sorely lacking.
The family's mother, Leslie (Trin Miller), has killed herself. Something about Ben's way of life sent her over the edge and a depression took over. Ben doesn't sugarcoat the realities of their predicament. "Your mother is dead. She slit her wrists." And that's that.
Matt Ross's film, which premiered at this year's Sundance, attempts to draw stark lines between ways of life. Ben's life appears richer. His kids are much smarter than the average child. When they go to visit their cousins, we see them engrossed in video games, heads buried in screens at the dinner table. The cousins are in high school and can't even explain what the Bill of Rights is. Whereas, Ben's youngest child, Nai (Charlie Shotwell), is an eight-year-old who can not only recite the amendments, but who can give an impromptu dissertation on the philosophy behind the amendments. It's startling because you might find yourself wondering, "What would my kids say if I asked them what the Bill of Rights is?"
Then there's the idea that while this life Ben has crafted for his kids provides knowledge and self-discovery, it doesn't provide societal structure and preparation for what's to come. Ben treats his family like a pod of possessions. This type of life isn't sustainable, unless all the children simply want to continue living in the woods after they come of age. At that point where do they meet other people to associate with? Other people to love? Other people to interact with? While this life appears to be freeing it's also dangerously isolated.
The kids are broken up about their mother's death so the whole family jumps in the family bus (because of course they have a family bus) and drive down to New Mexico to attend the funeral.
There are some aspects of 'Captain Fantastic' that scream festival film. There's just no escaping it. However, there are many moments of genuine reflection and discovery. It makes you wonder about your own kids and how you're raising them. What television is doing to their brains and how best to get them to read books instead. There's a happy medium to be reached and that's what Ben must come to realize.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a single-disc release. It comes in a standard keepcase with a code for a Digital Copy. There's also a slipcover provided.
Universal's 1080p presentation of 'Captain Fantastic' looks great. I never caught its initial showing at Sundance, but I'd be surprised if it looked this good on screen. Detail is superb throughout. It definitely doesn't look like a low-budget indie film. Not by a long shot.
The picture has depth and dimensionality. That's something that low-budget films regularly suffer from when viewed in high definition. The picture appears flat. Here that's just not the case. With the black areas as deep and resolute as they are the entire picture has wonderful contrast.
Colors jump off the screen. From Ben's bright red suit to the greenery of the forest surrounding their home. The picture is vibrant, never wavering in quality or consistency. Clarity is top-notch. Everything about this transfer appears to be well thought out. No complaints here.
The DTS-HD Mater Audio 5.1 track is subdued. This is simply because of the nature of the film. There aren't any places where large-scale sonics are called for. It's a talk-heavy film with most of the sound centered up front.
There is plenty of ambient noise in the rear channels though. Birds, crickets, and wind rustling the leaves can all be heard in the surrounds. Up front cleanly spoken dialogue is intelligible even when whispered. There are quite a few quiet moments where whispers might be hard to hear on other less dynamic audio presentations, but not this one.
Musical cues in the soundtrack offer up instances where the sub-woofer can come alive. There are also a few moments where the family make their own music and their percussive drumbeats thump along nicely. Again, this isn't bass that's going to rattle the walls. It does add a nice touch to an already well-rounded audio presentation though.
Insane or Insanely Great? (HD, 4 min.) – A much too short featurette where Matt Ross, Mortenson, and Frank Langella discuss the opposing viewpoints showcased in the movie's narrative.
I dug 'Captain Fantastic'. Anything that allows me to reflect on how I parent my own children is something I hold in high regard. Will we move out into the wilderness and kill deer by hand after watching this? Maybe. Who knows? No seriously, what I do know is that we're always trying to find that elusive balance in our lives. Perhaps we can learn from others, adopt ideals we admire, and become better people. Oh, the audio and video are pretty great too. This release is recommended.