Silence. A long take on a forest in the north of the United States, with a pleasantly blinding light that touches the camera lens and thus our eyes. The noise of a brook. The groans of a deer killed by a boy with a face covered by the must.
The first minutes of Captain Fantastic are a rite of initiation: yes, the passage to the adulthood of the young Bodevan, but also a rite of initiation of the spectator. The spectator, between sounds of streams that turn into the natural music of Alex Somers, is brought inside a different world, a world in which a father, Ben Cash (an exceptional Viggo Mortensen, that has been candidate for the category “best actor” in the Oscars 2017) grows alone in the forest his six children: in order of age Bodevan, the twins Kielyr and Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai. Strange names, that he has especially given, so that they are unique in the world, for serious: this kids are able to hunt, to climb mountains, to study the theory of strings, to discuss Marxism. This is the anti-capitalist miscrocosmo that Ben creates with his wife Leslie, who, however, will commit suicide beacause of her illness.
At this point the family must return to the “real world” for the funeral of the woman, and it is here that the director Matt Ross, at his second film (but the first really important) surpasses himself. The opposition between the hippie community of the Cash and the exalted American capitalism is evident, but the film does not take positions, it remains on a wonderful indecision, which perhaps is the same of the director, who has lived in hippie communities during his childhood.
If on the one hand there is the small Zaja that with an impressive knowledge of the Declaration of Rights humiliates his American-middleweight cousins, that are interested in violent and video games and are indiferrent to culture (and for no doubt much of the audience felt directly taken into account), on the other hand there is a Bodevan that “unless it is written on a fucking book does not know absolutely nothing about the world”. He asks the hand of a girl met in a camper camp after a single kiss, not knowing how to live in the “normal” world. The film thus becomes an essay of relativism: there is nothing good in the extremes, the same Ben says “as the capitalists, even the Marxists could be criminal”.
But the same Ben fails to moderate his own ideology: outspoken, anarchist, lover of freedom in the deepest sense, the protagonist quietly speaks to his son Nai of sex and crack, ridiculing the hypocrisy of the American middle-class. He celebrates with his children the “Noam Chomsky’s Party” instead of Christmas, “at the end why celebrate a magical elf in the place of a man who with his studies was really important for mankind?”. He is directly responsible for the suicide of his wife, who he has brought into the forest to heal from her diseases without having, evidently, the hoped answers. His son Rellian knows this fact, for this reason he hates deeply Ben until the moment when the father figure does not descend from his patriarchal throne to admit his own sins. Here we have also another great lesson of life.
No, Captain Fantastic is not a light film, it is not a pleasurely travel in nature not to think about our everyday life, it is a film that makes you think, makes you cry, and makes you, in many moments, even angry. The spectator is captured by the film, also thanks to the intangible music of Alex Somers and of the Sigur Ròs, an environmental post rock that sounds like a breath of fresh air in the chaos of everyday life. In particular the tracks Funeral pyre and Varðeldur are the mirror of the film, a real way of life. We listen to an harmony between light arcs, ambient sounds and voices shouted but at the same time choked in the background: the peace of silence, yes, but with something that tries to get out , who tries to break that silence. We feel a subtle, but palpable pain. But in this muffled atmosphere there are repeated attacks to the lifestyle of the average spectator, called to become aware of himself and others.
The music is translated into a photography that passes with an incredible tranquility from long fields of forests to foreground on the painly face of Ben for the momentary loss of his children, with tears that gush painfully from his eyes. The photography is able to grasp interesting and pleasant games of light in the heart of nature, a light always present, a light that filters between the trees, a light that filters from the windows and illuminates the wonderful red hair of Ben’s children, a light that makes themselves part of light, of nature: you can feel it in their eyes, in their candid skin that perfectly reflects the light, in contrast with the opaque bodies of post-capitalism around them.
The music is not only basic as soundtrack, but as a means of expression of the characters: the Gooldberg variations of Yo Yo Ma, Leslie’s favorite music and as a result of all the children, is the only music through which they manage to communicate with the rest of the world transmitting a sense of obvious alienation. And then there is the funeral, the real one, the party to celebrate a new life cycle, not the Christian funeral march, which Leslie, who was a Buddhist (but only in a philosophical way, not as a believer) would have never wanted. Here, honestly, the confrontation is quite merciless: on the one hand we have a foreign priest who speaks of things of rite in the elegy of the poor suicide, on the other hand we have a family dressed for a celebration that sing and dance around a bonfire, around their mother, with an emotional closeness that a coffin can not give, with a version of Sweet child or ‘ mine of Guns ‘ n Roses that exceeds the original, between rhythmic guitars and the broken voice of Kielyr (Annalise Basso) that literally makes goose to the skin. The protagonists, dressed so colorful, in contrast to the Christian funeral clothes, are close to the real pain, which then merges with happiness. They are close to purity, a purity that the Christian rite can not reach, stopped to an hypocrisy that makes thinking only to its own grief, and certainly not to the one the poor Leslie: the protagonists shine with their own light, that same light that instead during the Christian funeral remained out watching.
Captain Fantastic does not tell you to take a stand, Captain Fantastic does not make you feel better with yourself, Captain Fantastic looks mercilessly at our society (that is hypocrite and attached to money, without an end and basically unhappy) but without for this repudiating the associated living in itself: it demonstrates the final compromise of Ben, who decides to make his children go to school and allows Bodevan to leave, because you can not impose your own lifestyle to other people, and perhaps this is the only great lesson of absolute sense, that detaches itself from relativism to touch a subtle truth, that the film can give.
Awarded in the 2016 in Cannes as best director in the Un Certain Regard section, Matt Ross signs a cinematic work of absolute sense, which will continue to talk about himself for a long time.