A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Captain Fantastic is an original, moving drama that will leave mature audiences emotional and contemplative. Expect some disturbing moments, as when a teenager is shown slaying a deer with a knife (very gory) and eating its heart raw, as well as children and teens handling weapons (mostly knives) with glee. A mother commits suicide (not shown), a dead body is shown burning, and a child suffers a dangerous fall. There's also some swearing (mostly "s--t" and the occasional "f--k"), nudity (including full-frontal male, though it's not sexual in nature), kissing/making out, and drinking (both by adults and children, though not to excess). Underlying everything are messages about forgiveness, family, and respect.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, when we first meet Ben (Viggo Mortensen), he and his children (who range in age from very young to nearly college-aged) are running through the woods, faces caked in mud, holding weapons, in pursuit of a deer that his teenage son slays. It’s a fitting beginning; Ben and his family believe they're in fighting for survival in a society that’s grown increasingly removed from the natural world and the intellectual life. Still, Ben's oldest son, Bodevan (George MacKay), longs to attend college, and Ben's younger boy, Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), is bristling under his father's singular vision of a life removed from the rest of society. All of the kids miss their mother, whom they discover has committed suicide at the hospital where she'd been trying to get better. Her death prompts Ben and his kids to board their trailer bus (christened Steve) and head to her funeral, even though they haven't been invited.
Is it any good?
It's hard describe the beauty and genius of this very original, very moving film about mortality, family, and parenting. Captain Fantastic is such a different animal that it would be all too easy to dismiss it as overcomplicated and overwrought. Yet it's neither. It isn't afraid to push boundaries, to make viewers a little uncomfortable so they can immerse themselves in the world that Ben and his family create. And when the family ventures away from their idyll in the mountains, viewers can feel both the trepidation and excitement that engulf them. In short, we're fully invested in their outcomes.
Mortensen is tailor-made to play Ben, whom he paints as both stubborn and single-minded but also kind, loving and, yes, afraid. That Mortensen is able to communicate all this and more -- even as Ben puts his children through the paces -- with grace and compassion is masterful. He's met with equal confidence by MacKay, Hamilton, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Shree Crooks, and Charlie Shotwell, who play Ben's kids. So, too, by Frank Langella and Ann Dowd, who play his grieving in-laws. If there's a quibble, it's that the movie sometimes feels stuffed to the gills and sometimes oversimplifies the core parenting arguments at the center of its plot. But in the end, kudos to director Matt Ross, who guides his cast with a steady, controlled hand that allows the story to run free.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Captain Fantastic presents Ben's as a parent. Is he a good father? A flawed one? How does he compare to other movie dads you've seen?
Ben and his kids seem to have a very specific sense of what matters in life. Does the film balance his position with a more conventional outlook? Which one do you tend to agree with?
Would you ever be willing to give up video games, cell phones, and the like? Do you think it's possible for people to become addicted to technology?
How does the movie handle the subject of mental illness?
- In theaters: July 8, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: October 25, 2016
- Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Steve Zahn, Kathryn Hahn
- Director: Matt Ross
- Studio: Bleecker Street
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and brief graphic nudity
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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