Director, writer of the story and screenplay – Matt Ross
Starring – Viggo Mortensen
The other day I viewed a quite unusual film. The film is Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic. While I don’t feel that this is an outstanding film, I believe it is worth seeing.
The film is about parents who decide to raise their six children isolated from society in an Oregon forest. In this environment the children learn to become self sufficient, physically strong, and competent in conversing in several languages. They become avid readers and learn to analyze the ideas of the arts and sciences. Also, the father of the children pushes them to think for themselves and develop their own perspectives. Along these lines, they all become competent musicians and enjoy those times when they sing, dance, and perform their music.
We never meet the mother, and she dies early in the film. The family then travels to New Mexico for her funeral. Here is where we see the inevitable conflict between this family and the everyday world we all know. Ultimately the father learns that there was a central flaw in how he raised his children. They had no social skills that would allow them to live in the world.
From the opening scenes of the film there are some parts that are difficult to watch. Clearly, I was uncomfortable watching certain scenes. These scenes portrayed the rigorous and unconventional way the father instilled in his children a sense of self-sufficiency.
In thinking about these scenes, we might also think about the environment many children are exposed to in this country. Today millions of children do not have a place to live or enough food to eat. Many children suffer from treatable illnesses or injuries because they don’t have sufficient medical insurance. Then, there is the huge number of children who experience sexual abuse. A common problem many children face is sheer boredom, that can lead to Attention Deficit Disorder, that can lead to drug addiction.
The utopian socialists
The idea of setting up a communal society away from the mainstream is not new. The utopian socialists Robert Owen and Charles Fourier both were critical of the world they lived in. Radicals actually set up communities that attempted to be self sufficient as well as fair to all inhabitants. All this happened in the 19th century.
In their lives Robert Owen was the first to argue for an eight-hour day for working people. Charles Fourier invented the term of feminism and argued that women should have the same rights as men. He was also critical of the idea of civilization as it was used in his day. All these ideas emerged in the 19th century.
Clearly all these experiments in utopian socialist communities ended in failure. However, the ideas promoted by Owen, Fourier and others live on to this day.
The psychologist Erik Erikson
In considering the ideas expressed in the film Captain Fantastic we might also consider the works of the child psychologist Erik Erikson. Erikson studied the Lakota and Yurok Indians in this country and learned how they raised their children. We might consider that the indigenous people of this country needed to live their lives with a total dependence on the natural environment. This wasn’t easy, so the methods used in raising children were extremely important.
Erikson used his knowledge of the indigenous peoples to develop his theories for raising children. He argued that if children do not establish feelings of trust, they will be mistrustful. If children do not develop a feeling of autonomy, they will feel shame. If children aren’t given the opportunity to take initiatives, they will develop a sense of guilt. If children aren’t allowed to be industrious, they will develop feelings of inferiority. If children are raised in a way where they are trustful and industrious, Erikson believed that they would become competent.
Erikson also believed that parents need to set an example their children can admire. This is how he explained it:
“Healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death.”
The film Captain Fantastic clearly is not an instruction manual of how to raise children. As the film points out, there were clear problems with the way these children were raised. However, the film also shows how children can become extremely competent if they are raised in a totally different environment. The film accomplishes this while portraying a compelling story.
These are some of the reasons why I feel Captain Fantastic is well worth seeing.