Just saw the film “Captain Fantastic” after reading some rave reviews. What follows are a few of my takes on it…
Starts off with the oldest son killing a deer with his bare hands & a knife. All the kids gather round & dad says, “Well done. My son’s become a man.” Then the kids get down to business – preparing the flesh of the deer for food, etc. Nothing ritualistic or spiritual about it. No feeling. It’s about Survival – or the skills you need for that. Nothing more.
That’s one of the main things I get from this film. It comes over as “rebellious” – as though it offers an alternative to the system (via home schooling, living off-grid), but the results are rather cold and empty; and, in the end, we are to see that it’s all just a roundabout way of preparing the kids to return to the system-as-it-is. They never get beyond it, and the film fails to offer an alternative way of dealing with the future or the way things are.
The story-line in brief: the lawyer daughter of a billionaire businessman, marries a highly-educated (Marxist-Chomsky-loving) academic & they both decide to raise their kids in nature (off-grid) and provide them with “revolutionary ideas.” The wife becomes psychotic, bi-polar and dad sends her off to a hospital to be treated (“she needed Serotonin, and I couldn’t give her that”). Eventually, she kills herself…
This “contradiction-of-extremes” theme repeats itself throughout the film. Example: Younger “rebel” son getting tired-of-it-all to oldest son: “Mom was psychotic… Dad made mom crazy. You think dad’s so perfect!”
Later: Dad out drinking a bottle of wine, oldest son goes into the “hippy” bus to get some acceptance letters from some of the most elite universities in the world. Shows them to dad. Dad checks them out & son says: “Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Brown, MIT…”
“Hmmm, ha ha, well done… you’ve deceived me well all this time…”
“Dad, it was mom. She helped me do this. I just want to go to college.”
“You speak 6 languages, you’re an expert in high math and theoretical physics – what are one of these colleges gonna teach you?!”
“I know nothing! I’m a freak. You made us freaks – and mom knew that – she understood! … Unless it comes out of a fucking book, I don’t know anything about anything.”
Yes, mom understood. It’s just a different method, not a different result. Dad can give them an excellent “book” education and an alternative life-style: lead the kids on a “free-the-food” shoplifting mission, walk around in his billionaire father-in-law’s house with a Jesse Jackson ‘88 t-shirt; hang-out naked (except at the dinner table) & give condescending advice to a perplexed-looking older couple passing, “It’s just a penis. All men have them”; and give sex-ed to his youngest ones via picture books – “The Joy of Sex”; but he can’t give them anything deeper, spiritual, life-enhancing. The result is kind of like the emotionally-barren, ideal “polis” (city-state) illustrated by the paradox of the Philosopher-King in Plato’s “Republic.” This is what mom said she wanted. Maybe that’s why she killed herself?
We do get a few hints that dad’s “home-school book learning” is superior, at least in its logical acquisition, to traditional American schools. Dad’s 8-year-old can explain what the “Bill of Rights” theoretically stand for while his two high school age cousins have no idea. But he can’t explain why those “rights” are quickly being threatened while the Constitution withers away in synthetic “Wars” on Drugs and Terrorism. He mentions “freedom” in relation to those rights, but he never questions what freedom is, or means.
Finally, after seeing his daughter rendered nearly paralyzed after sending her to scale the roof of Grandpa Moneybags’ million-dollar house to “rescue” his son (who has claimed to not want to be with him, anyway), dad decides he’s had enough. Ok, Grandpa, you can have the kids. I give up. And he drives away in the hippy bus; shaves off his beard; cries (over the failed implementation of his wild dream). Then, what do you know, the kids who have been hiding in back of the bus, run up to cheer their broken father up. He’s learned his lesson well – no more “back-to-nature freak stuff” – the movie ends with dad continuing his home school lessons in a cute little house in Suburbia.
What disappoints me is the fact that the film could have been so much more: a search for knowledge and spiritual values from a Socratic perspective: “Unless it comes out of a fucking book, I don’t know anything about anything”; a return to having a respect and love for Nature; and an attempt at building ties between each other, family and community. But all we are left with are some “nice” Chomskyisms, a few token Marxist rah-rah’s and a “dead end.”