by Smita Ganguli
What you are about to read isn’t a review of the sorts. It is however, an expression of dubiety.
For those of you who haven’t watched Matt Ross’s Captain Fantastic yet, why though? Get down to it as soon as possible because it is fucking VIGGO MORTENSEN and that’s all that should matter prior to watching it.
A shaggy Ben raising his children in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, Captain Fantastic belongs to the drama genre. It is softheaded and tough, manipulative and honest, all at the same time. And yes, of course it has become a personal favourite because it is one of those few films of the recent times that addresses my political dubiety.
Trump on the right, Sanders on the left, and then there’s Fantastic that fuses the two if not anything else. The film’s primal aim is however not to portray this junction, however, it tries to tell the story of a father by broaching into the empathies of the socio-political spirit of the present day.
Here’s how the fusion begins:
Ben Cash, a recent-day shaggy dad of six, has created an ideal kibbutz where everything is hunky-dory and everything is perfect, by definition. On the other hand, long haired idealist Ben’s hostility resembles Kaczynski, popularly also known as Unabomber. Ben has trained his children to be hunter-gatherers with variant desires and a variety of weapons. However, the Cash family consumes everything, thereby keeping up with the ecological harmony.
One cannot simply overlook the names of the six kids and how that in itself is pointing towards celebrating individuality and not falling for a celebrity fetish of naming one’s kids ‘North West’ and ‘Blue Ivy’. Names like Vespyr, Zaja and Rellian – all sound like names of an antediluvian videogame characters.
What’s also supremely ‘left’ in the story is how Ben’s children are home schooled and have read everything from ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ to ‘Lolita’, and not just that, they have also been educated by every bit of that reading. The other side to this is that Ben is a very demanding teacher, almost as demanding as the headmaster of a Jesuit academy.
Ben’s wife who suffered from bipolar mental disorder leads the rest of the family to move to the woods with the cliché belief that moving away from the modern day hustle-bustle would eventually cure the mother’s illness. This is basically outlining the 70s counterculture psychological analysis of the masses – leading the people to believe that ‘schizophrenia’ in particular, was/is the result of the modern day society and its people.
The protagonist of the film – Ben, is constantly building up on ideologies that back his character up. The ideology being – ‘The powerful control the lives of the powerless’.
Ben, the father, who hates the concept of ‘organized’ religion also encourages his kids to engage in a planned act of shoplifting from a store to gather food for themselves. Celebrating ‘Noam Chomsky’ day is in itself the sole proof of the existing leftist ideology in the family and in Ben himself.
Viggo Mortensen as Ben is all takes for one to notice this strong mash up of blue and red. Consider, say – Jim Carrey or Willem Dafoe in place of Mortensen, Ben’s character would have come off as an easy progressive. But here we have Mortensen who has pulled off two kinds of make-believe personalities, one that is paradoxically hard-core ‘soft’, religious and band-wagon following, other being too rugged and outlaw-ish to contain himself within a typical liberalist society.
Well obviously Ben looks like he is the kind to not celebrate Christmas, but at the same time resembles the kind of dad who would cut a cashier in half for charging him money to pay for his purchases.
To have this kind of two-sidedness in a character from a film speaks volumes of the kind of lives we lead and the things we encourage and enforce on ourselves and the rest of the society. And we have massive trouble accepting this kind of duality, which in societal terms, is popularly known as ‘hypocrisy’.