Captain Fantastic: Living, Breathing Truth
" May the Light bless us all, and make true our tongues,
and truer our hearts, and truest of all our deeds."
(Alison Croggon, The Riddle, p.64)
Venus Jupiter & Moon, June 2015
The new movie, Captain Fantastic, is fantastic because it actually tells us a story our world needs to hear and see and understand right now. And it tells it to us with beauty, grace, wit, sorrow and keen insight. It is a story about Truth and how we never know what that Truth really is until we fully live it, especially when it comes up against another's Truth.
The cast is amazing as well. Viggo Mortensen is intense as Ben, the father, wholly believing in his philosophy of our modern world. He's the old hippie, unwilling to bend to the world. He's dedicated to enriching his children's minds and hearts and bodies. He's a drill sargent, a college professor, a trickster and a loving father all roled into one character. As I mentioned. Intense . He believes in the rightness of his truth, even when others see it as wrong. He is a revolutionary and he is raising his kids to be revolutionaries as well. When he holds a celebration with his kids, it's called Noam Chomsky's birthday. Every time. Enough said!
The children are all a delight: training, learning, creating, being brave, speaking the Truth . The oldest, Bo ( George MacKay ) is brilliant and brave and kind, and yet socially inept for an 18 year old. The two older sisters, Kielyr ( Samantha Isler ) and Vespyr ( Annalise Basso ), both redheads, look and act like sisters, and both take on the older sister mothering role--fierce and creative and wise--very much as I imagine the priestesses of Artemis were back in ancient Greece. The troublemaker Rellian ( Nicholas Hamilton ) is just as smart and creative as the others, but the secret Truth he knows is eating him up. The two youngest kids, Zaja, ( Shree Crooks ) and Nai ( Charlie Shotwell ) are still young enough to show us the rigorous standards Ben sets for all of them, regardless of their ages or strengths. And how well they learn and prosper, especially when life, including sex, is explained to them matter-of-factly. Truth is the central value of this amazing family.
And then there is their missing mother. In a fairy tale, when the mother or queen is dead, it indicates a lack of the feeling values of life, the waters of life having vanished. There is something brittle about life without the nurturing Mother's presence. And so it is in this 'off the grid' primal paradise Ben and Leslie ( Trin Miller ) created once she's gone. We discover that Leslie is being treated for bi-polar disorder. The kids miss her but Ben is stoic about it; she's sick. A fact is a fact is a fact... But as a astrologer, I'd rather think that she's got some Gemini doubts going on. We find out that she goes back and forth, changing her mind, about the rightness of this life they've created. She gets excited and then depressed about their life experiment. And the writer/director Matt Ross chose a perfect metaphor for the shadow aspect of this rigorous lifestyle--its extreme position gives rise to its opposite.
Every Truth has a shadow. Too rigidly holding to our Truth can hurt and even kill life.
When Leslie takes her own life, Ben and the children leave their Pacific Northwest forest home and travel down to Las Vegas (?) for the funeral. This is the journey and the testing for both Ben and the children. For Ben, we see that his memories of Leslie are all about her love for him. Is this the total truth or just part of it? For the children, we get to see how well they deal with the world their parents left behind. We see how they hold to their father's moral sense of right and wrong by stealing food from a store since there's no game off the roads to be killed and cooked. When they meet their aunt's family, we see the depth of their education and knowledge of life as opposed to two adolescent boys playing their video games and being jerks. As Ben says, his children will be philosopher kings -- and queens.
But it's when they get to the funeral that we meet their biggest challenge. Their mother's parents. We've heard that their grandfather, Jack ( Frank Langella ) doesn't want Ben at the funeral. So when he shows up with the children, we expect a showdown, which Ben percipitates by reading Leslie's will at the altar, which states she wants to be cremated and doesn't want to be buried by the Church. He is taken out of the church and the kids follow.
But the surprise comes when we see the love Leslie's mother Abigail ( Ann Dowd ) has for Ben and the children. And that Jack loves them too. That's why he's going to sue for custody of them. He's worried for their safety. Then Rellian says he wants to stay with his grandparents. He's the most upset over his mother's death and the secret he's carried makes him turn against his father. The secret: that they argued over the life they'd created for themselves and the children. That Ben hadn't listened. And now Mom was dead.
This is what happens when we can't see how our Truth might not be someone else's truth. Perhaps Ben couldn't compromise his truth even though Leslie needed him to hear her. Something about their life was too hard and Leslie couldn't sustain it. But Ben wouldn't listen.