Captain Fantastic

I liked this movie, although probably not as much as Dan did.  A guy whose politics incorporates every stereotype of the loony left decides to take his 6 children, aged about 5 to about 17, off the grid — WAY off the grid, in a mountain cabin someplace in the Pacific Northwest. No phone, no lights, no motor car,not a single luxury. No toilets either. The family grows or kills its own food.  Schooling is completely by book — with no limit on what you can read.  Your 14-year old daughter wants to read Lolita?  Fine — now tell your dad exactly what you thought of it, in front of your 5-year old sister.

Maybe I’m just practically minded, but after a while the artificiality of the set-up really got to me.  The family lives in a cabin in the woods, miles from civilization and surrounded by wild animals.  But nobody has a gun — really?  The dad is militantly anti modern “corporate medicine — you just know none of those kids has been vaccinated.  What happens when one of his kids actually gets sick?  The conspicuous lack of even semi-modern plumbing and cooking facilities also bothered me — those home-preserved vegetables didn’t can themselves.  The family’s missing mother is described, admiringly, as a Buddhist, and therefore an opponent of organized religion.  Um, no. After several trips to Japan, I can assure you that Buddhism has temples, priests and prayer services — all the trappings of organized religion.  By the time we got the family party for Noam Chomsky Day, I was pretty sure the moviemakers were having us on — at least I hope they were.  I wound up rooting for the rich, right-wing, Christian grandparents, although I’m sure you were supposed to think of them as the villains.

The cast is good, and much of the dialog is engagingly written.  In addition to the Lolita scene, I enjoyed the kids’ encounter with a skeptical highway patrolman (shoutout to OSF actor Rex Young), as they convince him that they are home-schooled crazy Christian children, and not crazy lefties.  The mental alertness and physical fitness of off-the-grid kids, compared to those who spend their lives glued to their screens seemed accurate enough.  So did the oldest kid’s confusion when he’s trying to chat up a girl and is faced with an unfamiliar TV show reference.

On balance, it’s an entertaining film — but it might be best to treat it as a fable.  \

Side note:  A few years ago, Jedediah Purdy, a kid home-schooled by his lefty parents in rural West Virginia made some headlines when (like the kid in the movie) he got into Harvard.  In some of his early work, Purdy seemed confused by students who laughed at the film Love Story — he couldn’t understand why his fellow students had no empathy for the young woman who died so tragically young.  Purdy lacked the context to understand that what the students were laughing at was not the story, but the comically bad dialogue and inept acting — and isn’t that the real problem with raising your kids so completely on your own?

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