Alongside someone like Daniel Day-Lewis, Viggo Mortensen is man that will always give everything he has as an actor to whatever character he’s inhabiting. I truly believe him to be one of the best actors working today, when he could’ve just retired after the millions he accumulated with LOTR, Mortensen has decided to instead take roles in tiny films he believes important, delivering top-notch performances every single time. Whether its the trilogy in which he helped re-invent Cronenberg’s directing style or other films like Jauja or The Road, the man kills it every single time and Captain Fantastic is no different.
What Captain Fantastic does is show us how fucked up our world is and how perfect it could be if it were ruled by philosopher kings like the children Ben Cash (Mortensen) has been raising on the outskirts of society. Nourishing them with Marx, Mao, and Trotsky, as well as teaching them about quantum physics before they’ve even reached adulthood, Cash has molded the perfect individuals we would want to lead society in such dire times as these. Then again, we’d never let these kids near us because we’d consider them too odd or intellectually defiant. In the words of Sir Thomas More, “Commonwealths will become happy only when philosophers become kings or kings become philosophers” (More, 27). I guess they would, if we were only to actually listen to their advice and not disregard the work of people like Noam Chomsky.
In other words, Captain Fantastic deals with a sort-of fantastical, the promise of a functional society. It pins an intellectually progressive society versus the lazy collective consciousness of our current one. Snapchat, Instagram, Why? They’re all but perfectly-edited highlights from our life we chose to make public in search of vainglory, why not live with the brutal honesty Cash indoctrinates his children with? Why do we spend a tenth of our mortal life fixated on whether a fictitious fat old-man from the North Pole will come down and give us presents on the date of some old pagan holiday? Why?, because the life Cash suggests is impossible, the irony is Cash is trying to achieve the genius of Plato’s Republic when it’s but a mere fairy-tale of what will never be. At least not here, not in this corrupted society which we live in.
What Matt Ross does in telling his story goes beyond the trappings of coming-of-age tale or a family drama, it’s about society, how it is and how we choose to participate in it. The reality of the matter is it will remain as dumb as it is and it is the job of those few intellectual saviors to make something of the little we offer. That seems rather unfair and that’s because it is, it’s just the way the world works. Sadly those high-schoolers presented in the film who are ignorant about their own Bill of Rights in this film will probably be thought of more highly by their community than the tiny Zaja that will grow up to be a promoter of humanism. Its sad but true, that’s what Matt Ross is getting at and as somber as it seems it does get you thinking about what could be if we were to let ourselves be ruled by true philosopher kings. Captain Fantastic does the job art strives for, it produces ideas and thoughts, causes debates, formulates opinions about what society is, and what it could be, what we actually want it to be like society, and what we settle for, that’s why Captain Fantastic is so remarkable. The film is an intellectually stimulating adventure that makes you reflect on society, whether you’re content with it or whether you’d trade it for the one Ben Cash promotes as ludicrous as it sounds.