Sundance 2016: Matt Ross' 'Captain Fantastic' is Profoundly Intelligent

January 23, 2016

Captain Fantastic Review

This is the film I've been waiting for. And I don't just mean it's the film I was waiting for at Sundance, but perhaps this is the film I was waiting to come across in my life. Matt Ross' Captain Fantastic is one of the most inspiring, invigorating, and intelligent films I've ever seen at Sundance. I don't care if that sounds hyperbolic, this is one of those times when hyperbole is actually necessary. This film floored me, and I'm still on a high from it, with so much to say about it. It's brilliant, it's uplifting, it's encouraging, it's warm, it's touching, it's funny, it's endearing. All these adjectives are necessary because it's a film that has filled me with so much happiness and hopefulness that I can't help expressing my love for this film. It's everything.

What the hell is this film about? Captain Fantastic stars Viggo Mortensen as a loving father of a family of six kids, living out in the wilderness, raising them to be intelligent, strong individuals through training and reading. Their life is inspired by Noam Chomsky, who is referenced throughout, with an anti-corporate attitude but intellectual approach to living. It's not about excess, or worthless entertainment; it's not about all the frivolous, wasteful things everyone spends their money on, it's about only buying what they need, and dedicating their learning to universal truths and wondrous beauty in this world. The way they approach this mindset in the film is wonderful, not overbearing or grating at all, with just the right amount of charisma.

Essentially, Mortensen plays that kind of arrogant, cerebral person who shoots down (using intelligence) anyone that cares about money. In this society, he's the person that many people love to hate, because he refuses to be like everyone else. But that's why I love him. The story involves Mortensen and his naturalist kids traveling out into the world, awkward as expected, clashing with everyone along the way - other people in his family and pretty much everyone they encounter. It's played for laughs, but it's also so extremely intelligently written, every single line is profound. Every last conversation has so much depth to it, because that's what happens when intellectualism is encouraged. It's what we desperately need more of right now.

I didn't know what to expect with this film going in, but I was swept away by it, caught up until the very end. Laughing, smiling, cheering, applauding at all the right moments. There is a score that sounds like it was done by Jónsi, even though it wasn't, but it adds a mesmerizing dreamlike/uplifting vibe to the film. The cinematography throughout is gorgeous, as Mortensen drives a blue bus (nicknamed "Steve") down from the Northwest to Arizona. Every last scene and every moment is handled with care. It's often overtly hilarious because Mortensen speaks so honestly, he always tells his kids the real answers to their questions, never filtering anything. It made me smile more and more every time it happened. Honesty is a key part of my life.

What it really comes down to is whether it's possible to raise kids like this, and be a loving parent in a world that sees this lifestyle as dangerous. And I'm sure everyone already knows the answer to that question if so many people are in love with this film already. It gives me hope that it's possible to be an intellectual, to clash with the unenlightened citizens of this world, and to still have such a big heart. This is one of those cases when I think this film found me as much as I found it. It's everything that I believe in, that I support, and it's expressed so perfectly; I can't wait for the rest of the world to get the chance to experience it. Go in with an open mind, an open heart, and you'll leave as inspired and enlivened as I was. It's film full of life.

I must end with this key Noam Chomsky quote: "If you assume that 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."

Alex's Sundance 2016 Rating: 10 out of 10
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Hm, maybe this review might've been more objectively written if you would've waited until you came down from your "high from [the film]." But I don't want to sound cynical; I feel like this movie might be of a Wim Wenders-esque type on the road (á la 'Paris, Texas,' maybe), which I love. Also, Mortensen is a very good actor, and I'd love to see him in something that maybe has a bit more humor than he usually does. I'll keep an eye out for this one.

Terry Craig on Jan 24, 2016


I disagree completely. First things first, this is the middle of a film festival, I don't have time to stop and think about it for another week when this is just 1 of 30+ films I'm seeing here. Second, because of the festival, if I'm so in love with a film that I feel this elated and have this much to say about it, there's really nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's one of the best experiences and the perfect time to start writing - to really capture the very honest thoughts and feelings I had while watching this film. That's what the experience of cinema is all about.

Alex Billington on Jan 24, 2016


Regarding your second point, I didn't say "wrong", I said "objectively". Don't take it as a criticism; just an observation. I get what you're saying, and I can totally benefit from/respect a review written in the heat of the moment. But, speaking for myself, I tend to let movies like this simmer in my head for a few days after viewing them, before forming an opinion. Not to mention that I sometimes need at least one repeated viewing. Some movies are a very involving experience, but you tend to forget them relatively soon afterwards. Other movies dare to be original and are excitingly new, but not always succeed in much more than that. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. Regarding your first point-- that's fine, you don't have the time. I'm just saying for those who will see the movie under different conditions (so most of its audience) and will take the time to let it sink in first, the movie might resonate differently.

Terry Craig on Jan 24, 2016


Thanks for the thoughtful response, I appreciate it. And yep, I totally understand, but that's why I do make sure to say this is a Sundance review.

Alex Billington on Jan 25, 2016


I want to experience this film.

Neuromancer on Jan 24, 2016


Thanks for the review, AB. I have been wondering where Viggo has been lately. And wow! The first 10/10!! This just sounds great.

DAVIDPD on Jan 24, 2016


Alex, between your giddiness over the upcoming Barack and Michelle Obama love story movie and Noam Chomsky who is as far left as it gets, (supports Bernie Sanders) it's safe to say your vantage point and bias towards all things left are apparent.

Mike Scarborough on Jan 25, 2016


BUT it's also obv tthat your bias toward the President and First Lady comes into play for Your attitude Chomsky is a polarizing figure , but IF thsi philosophy is correctly attributed to him , what's WRONG ( or Leftist ) about it ? .... I would think a conservative would be all in favor , or raising your kids as YOU see fit ....

Dominic on Jan 25, 2016


I havent seen this movie yet, Alex has. I might very well enjoy it despite my Libertarian views. I just know that half the country is rolling their eyes over an Obama love story movie just as half would roll theirs over a George W and Laura Bush romance movie.. I can just imagine the SNL skits and mocking media columns on that one.

Mike Scarborough on Jan 25, 2016


, again ur bias comes thru FIRST .. how do YOU know "half the country is rolling their eyes " ?..must I remind you that conservatives are less than 30% of the country , and SHRINKING fast . BTW I remember there were stories done on the Bush's "love story " ...creating two wars on false premises , prob had more to do with a HOLLYWOD movie on their romance not being greenlighted , than anything else . Damn sure no other country's cinema will do one , either . Whether you as Republican like it or not , The Obama status as First Black President and their being The First Black Family In the WH , IS an inspirational American story worth replicating on the Big Screen . Only the biased conservative conflates their Fine and Proud example of a united minority American Family , with ur views on ONLY His policy ideals

Dominic on Jan 25, 2016


Look bud, 60% of this nation believes we are going in the wrong direction. And the number of self identifying democrats is at it's smallest number in decades. You might want to read the news. that doesnt mean registered republicans are increasing either. While Obama is a charismatic and transformational figure, his wife is none of that. She's one of the least likable first ladies in history. That constant scowl on her face doesnt help the perception nor does her lavish trips (see Spain) with tons of hangers on attending at taxpayers expense.

Mike Scarborough on Jan 25, 2016


AGAIN that is a stat ONLY taken from CONSERVATIVES and ur 2nd sentence is incorrect in that Repubs ALSO have that smallest number and it's declining much faster than Dems . I didnlt SAY registered repubs are increasing. and I know they are declining FROM the News again "least likable First Lady " to WHO ? ceratinly not Blacks , and prob not liberals either .. the school lunch program was done in by weak parents and staff , who LET the kids throw that food away . As usual for Repubs , you're damning the idea and her , for its Execution . NOT for the idea Itself ... the First Lady takes no trips , that aren't sanctioned by the WH . For protection purposes , if anything . as to hangers-on , or lavish trips , u need a link to prove it isn't the normal thing a First Lady would do , or who the extra people were that sounds more like a made-up radcon news site story

Dominic on Jan 25, 2016


Have to agree with this one. I don't see the point of it, have zero interest in it myself (despite being an initial Obama supporter), and no one I know knows about this film. If I were to mention it, I'd probably get either a "no way" or "why the hell are they making that?"

VAharleywitch on Jan 28, 2016


most of what you hear about Chomsky is negative ...having to do with his anarchistic views .... question being how far you go and how violent you be , to be anti-corporate ? in his view but I like a Positive spin on the intellectual part of his philosophy ..

Dominic on Jan 25, 2016


thanks we on my chess site , have an idiot on the political channel that spends his time there ragging on Chomsky's approval of radical violence and anarchy against any govt. oppression . ... Otherwise I never would have heard of the man .. ..IF some quotes are correctly attributed , he has written that he favors the street mob rebelling violently , in Certain cases of societal/govt. oppression . The wiki page on him isn't exactly praising , either ... so good to know others see his writings with other perspectives ...

Dominic on Jan 25, 2016

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