Captain Fantastic is a unique movie without a boring moment. It tells the story of a family of back-to-nature fanatics—not from the political right (which would only have been scary), but from the Sixties left. They have foregone Christmas but added “Noam Chomsky Day,” which apparently can be held whenever father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) deems appropriate.
The home-schooled kids—treated like adults-in-the-making—are knowledgeable about essentials ranging from the Bill of Rights to serious rock climbing. But as the oldest come of age, problems await. Advanced for their respective ages, the children are nevertheless sheltered from many personal options, and thus situations begin to simmer.
Indeed, things change dramatically when the kids’ mother Leslie—away during treatment for her mental illness—commits suicide. When her father (well played by Frank Langella) forbids Ben to attend the funeral, you’ll be apprehensive. When Ben drives the family in their old bus out of their Washington state mountain sanctuary and into the forbidding wilderness of Modern Society, a.k.a. the Real World, you’ll brace yourself.
The contrast between two cultures is profound, challenging, and frequently very funny. Still, you constantly wonder:
Is Ben really going to the funeral where he faces threats of having his children taken from him? Will he tell the assembled Christian guests that Leslie was a Buddhist who wished to be cremated? Will he try to carry out her wishes? As you find yourself asking these questions, your answers will probably be: wrong, wrong again, still wrong, then, surprisingly—well. . . . This is not about Captain Obvious but Captain Fantastic.
No spoiler alert here, only a promise. That old bus will take you on a ride through the Unexpected. And when you leave the theater, during a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” you will know this: That bus has really taken you somewhere.
Rating: Four wooden nickels (out of four)