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Monday, July 26, 2021

The movie you should watch this weekend: Captain Fantastic, a crusader against consumer culture

Even if you don't care much for politics, Captain Fantastic is still a good movie in many ways. It is visually pleasing, humorous, inspiring and sentimental, all in all, a great option to veg out after a long week.

Written by Manoj Kumar R | Bengaluru |
Updated: June 13, 2021 8:33:44 am
A still from Captain Fantastic.

Captain Fantastic may sound like something out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the truth cannot be further off. If he were to inhabit the fantasy world of Stan Lee, he wouldn’t be fighting alongside the Avengers, he would be fighting them. And their fight would be ideological. For, while the Marvel heroes are caped crusaders of capitalism, Captain Fantastic is a left-leaning anarchist, who is the sworn enemy of consumerism. That would pit Captain Fantastic and his clan, which is armed with just fancy knives, against the Avengers dressed in their multi-million dollar battle suits.

Actor-filmmaker Matt Ross’ directorial Captain Fantastic is full of contradictions. The protagonist in the film is at once both traditional and modern. He is all for freedom, free speech, and at the same time, he strives to maintain a hierarchy, and order in the little commune he has created with his wife, who has similar beliefs and values as him. We are talking about Ben Cash’s (Viggo Mortensen) family. Ben and his wife Leslie Abigail Cash (Trin Miller) have created, in their own words, a little paradise in the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest. And they are blessed with six children, ranging in age from six to 18.

The film opens with Ben’s eldest son, Bodevan Cash (George MacKay) hunting a deer in the forest with a knife. It is a rite of passage, which marks his successful transition from a boy to a man. And as part of the ritual, he is also supposed to eat the raw meat of the deer he just killed. The scene sets the tone for the movie. It is a wild ride, which is miles away from the safe and clean civilization that humans have been perfecting for hundreds of years now. Ben and his wife Leslie are disenchanted with all advancements and comforts created by the power of capitalism. And that’s the reason, they keep their children away from all the vices of the modern world that could curtail their ability to think, speak and act beyond the confines created by the capitalist society.

Ben’s children, three girls and three boys, are all in incredible shape. They can scale trees, climb mountains and sprint through the forests. They are taught the anatomy of the human body, so they know quick ways to kill a human. They can hunt animals with a knife or a bow. Even the youngest one in the group prefers eight-inch Bowie knives to a book full of pictures as a gift. In case they are lost in the forest, they don’t need Google maps. They can find their way back home with the help of night stars. These skills give Ben’s clan an edge over others to thrive in a post-apocalyptic world. But, what is the use of these skills in a civilized society?

It seems Ben doesn’t believe in modern civilization that has commodified every aspect of human existence. For him, all things that nourish the human body and mind come free. And things that you pay for are a mere distraction, which is created to enslave human beings.

Ben’s perfect little world begins to crumble with the death of his wife. Leslie’s bipolar disorder required hospitalization, which required her to stay away from her family and return to her super-rich parents, who had offered to pay for her treatment. And Leslie takes her own life at the hospital, putting Ben and her children in a difficult situation. Leslie’s father Jack Bertrang (Frank Langella) wants Ben nowhere near the funeral. He threatens to get him arrested and take legal custody of his grandchildren, should Ben dare to come to his daughter’s funeral. And now Ben should decide whether he should surrender to the will of powerful men or assert his free will and embrace anarchy?

What follows is a cultural clash between Ben, his children and the rest of the United States of America. Matt Ross, who has also written the film, makes Ben’s clan stand in stark contrast to those who inhabit the consumer culture. Ben’s children stand out thanks to their healthy physique, sharp minds and vast knowledge. While their highly pampered cousins remind us of the role that fast food, smartphones, game consoles and Nike shoes play in their stunted development.

Captain Fantastic also embodies the struggles and challenges of mindful parenting in a lifestyle-obsessed society. Even if you don’t care much for politics, Captain Fantastic is still a good movie in many ways. It is visually pleasing, humorous, inspiring and sentimental, all in all, a great option to veg out after a long week.

Captain Fantastic is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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