Published Jul 15, 2016The Information Age and the changes to technology that came with it were supposed to usher in a new era of enlightenment. Sometimes it seems like the opposite has happened (just look at the amount of people who've fallen off cliffs or gotten into car accidents while playing Pokémon Go this summer). It's enough to make someone want to step away from society and go live in the woods.
It's a sentiment that Silicon Valley star Matt Ross explores deeply in his second feature-length film, Captain Fantastic. Viggo Mortensen stars as a former academic living an idyllic life in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest with his six children, free from human interaction and the laws that govern the rest of society. His kids see capitalism as a curse; they celebrate Noam Chomsky's birthday over Christmas; they have the physical stamina of world-class athletes. And yet, something is missing.
They start to discover what that is when their mother passes away at a mental hospital in New Mexico and the modern day Swiss Family Robinson must venture south to recover the body before it's buried, against the wishes stated in her will, at a cemetery. Every person they encounter along the way seems to see them as freaks — even their aunt (played by Kathryn Hahn) and uncle (Steve Zahn), who are the first in the film to voice concern for the children's safety at one of the more uncomfortable family dinner scenes shown onscreen. The kids lack any semblance of normality, and soon they start to see that too, leading to the main conflict of the story.
Captain Fantastic taps into a very common fear — at least for well-educated adults finding it hard to navigate the 21st century — that the system has failed us and the only fix is a radical steer to the left. In the end, it's not, but Ross raises some interesting ideas about living in the 21st Century, making this one of the more politically important and progressive films to come out this year.