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Sydney Film Festival Review: Captain Fantastic

A family road movie that breaks all conventions.

What is Captain Fantastic? It is interesting. No, that’s a taboo word according to Ben (Viggo Mortensen), the father in this captivating film. It’s also a term that can be misconstrued.

Try again.

Okay, so it’s an independent film by actor-turned-director Matt Ross about a father raising his six children deep in the forests of rural Washington. Living off the grid and on Marxist ideals, each day they undergo a rigorous training regime where Ben physically challenges them with mountain climbs and sword fights, and intellectually stimulates them with textbooks and languages.

Close, but no dice. That’s the story. Now, what is it really about?

Family. Passion. Beliefs. Laughter. Love. At times you’ll find yourself unsure of whether Ben is doing right by his children, bringing them up like machines, removing them from their superficial consumer-driven lives and teaching them to “stick it to the man”. And at other times you can almost touch how close to perfection he has built his family up to be – they adore each other, they support each other and they’re genuinely happy in this utopia world of theirs.

The line between radical and revolutionary is thin but Ben’s walks it well.

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Played by Viggo Mortensen, who is hardly recognisable in this film, Ben is endearing and transparent. He refuses to sugarcoat anything, even for his youngest child. So when his wife – who was being treated for bipolar – dies in hospital, no detail is lost on his family.

Such is the catalyst for this film, which sees his brood of merry hippies clamour into their bus enroute to New Mexico to stop their mother’s Christian funeral and honour her dying Buddhist wishes. As they journey through civilised modern society, it’s not just the children’s training that’s put to the test but their ideals as well, as they begin to question the philosophies that have dictated their entire lives.

Like their characters, the six-strong supporting cast is utterly remarkable. Shree Cooks who plays Ben’s second-youngest child Zaja turned 11 this year, yet she holds just as much weight as fellow cast members George MacKay (eldest son, Bodevan) and Annalise Basso (Vespyr), all of whom exude the personality, charm and comical timing of a well-seasoned actors.

Beautiful, bittersweet and honest, Captain Fantastic is an emotional rollercoaster that pulls at your heartstrings, tickles your funny bone and doesn't apologise for it one bit. Laugh, cry and stick it to the man.

Now that's what Captain Fantastic is really about.

What is next?

Captain Fantastic hits Australian cinemas 8 September 2016

Stephanie Yip

Stephanie is the travel editor at finder.com.au. On top of being an avid traveller, she's an all-round bargain hunter. If there's a deal or cheap flight available, she'll know about it. And she'll let you know about it, too.

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