I went to see Captain Fantastic last night and while I thoroughly enjoyed most of it - it's definitely entertaining - the film wasted so many of its interesting premises and was so determined to get to a feel-good ending no matter how many of those premises it had to contradict, that I ended up being annoyed by it. In brief, a family of dad plus six kids of varying ages, who have retreated from the iron heel of capitalism and consumerism into a Swiss Family Robinson-style life in the wilderness, which is a cross between a survivalist boot camp and an elite Soviet university, leave their forest home to attend their mother’s funeral in South Carolina, against the wishes of her parents, who hold the father, Ben, responsible for their daughter’s bipolar disorder and eventual suicide. There are some marvellously funny scenes as this family of rugged individualists encounters consumerist America for the first time (“What’s Cola?” “Poisoned water”. “I can’t shoot that sheep, it’s just standing there.”) It’s a set-up that could be used to probe really interesting questions about how far it’s possible to live outside the structures of civilisation, to examine normally unquestioned assumptions about the way we live our lives and the extent to which the values that we hold are the result of a form of brainwashing by a capitalist society, or to consider how far alternatives are possible without resorting to tyranny to impose those alternatives. None of that happens. Grandpa tells Ben he’s endangering the kids; Ben agrees when one of his daughters nearly dies in a fall from a roof he’s told her to climb (you would think a man who has spent years forcing his kids to go on dangerous rock climbs and kill animals with pointy weapons would already have made the calculation that the occasional death is a price worth paying for a meaningful life, but apparently not); the family “sticks it to the man” by digging up their mother’s coffin from its Christian grave and giving her the Buddhist cremation she’s always wanted; and they end up living happily ever after in a pretty wooden house out in the country where they can all go to a normal school but still be close to nature. None of this is remotely credible. Mom, despite having been in her coffin for at least three days, does not smell or look even the slightest bit decomposed, so everyone can say a touching face-to-face farewell without any retching or even holding of noses. A wood fire is sufficient to burn the entire corpse, so no-one has to rake the skeleton out of the ash or dispose of the bits that didn’t burn. The kids, who know advanced quantum physics, have read Middlemarch at the age of 8, are extremely well-versed in political and economic theory, and have a firm grasp of both world history and human sexual function, are perfectly happy to go to the local rural school, with no apparent problems with boredom or fitting in. The happy ending matters much more than adherence to the laws of physics or basic human psychology, and hence is a big fat LIE.
But my biggest beef with the film is ( Read more...Collapse )