CAPTAIN FANTASTIC opens with a deer hunt. It’s graphic. It’s violent. Yet there is something about it that shows enormous respect for the animal, and for the young man who brings it down using only a knife. This is not sport, it’s food. That sequence was the first thing I brought up on July 7, 2016, when talking with the film’s writer/director, Matt Ross, a man at home in front of the camera as well as behind it, and just as comfortable posing intriguing questions with his challenging, poetic, and beautiful film.
From a discussion about how removed we are from where our food comes from, to the boldness and intimacy of long, silent close-ups, we went on to talk about some of the more philosophical issues that the film considers, including the pressure on parents to prepare their children to navigate the world, choosing happiness over money, the benefits (or not) of having a back-up plan when choosing a career in the arts, the putative gender fluidity of one character, and the scrupulous, thoughtful attention to detail when planning how the Cash family would dress and how they would live that includes crochet clothing and the books in their hands.
We finished up with his musings on the honesty between father and children in the film, and how Moss himself tries to emulate that in real life with his own two kids.
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC is a film that addresses the age-old question, how best to prepare children in an uncertain world. For Ben and Leslie Cash it’s taking their children off the grid and into the woods of the Pacific Northwest, where they rigorously train both their minds and their bodies while also instilling a solid sense of both self-sufficiency and self-confidence away from a world they find over-medicated and undereducated. They also cultivate a sense of familial closeness that a life with electronic devices and other distractions can impinge. A family crisis forces Ben to bring his children out of the woods and into a world where they are not quite as prepared for what they find as Ben would have hoped, and forces a crisis of conscience where adherence to a Platonic ideal becomes less a lofty goal than tunnel vision with unintended consequences. The film stars Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Ann Dowd, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, George MacKay , Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, and Trin Miller. Ross directed from his own script and his previous work includes writing and directing 20 MOTELS. As an actor, he was the doctor driven mad by ether and grief in the first season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY, the tortured heir apparent to the prophet on BIG LOVE, and the Hooli CEO who goes the reverse engineering route on SILICON VALLEY.