Captain Fantastic is a 2016 American drama film written and directed by Matt Ross. It tells the story of a family, Ben Cash, his wife Leslie, and their six children aged seven to 18, who has decided to live in the wilderness, using survivalist skills, and opting for self-reliance and self-sufficiency, without dependence on modern technology. In line with Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854), the film is a reflection upon and a call to come to simple living in natural surroundings. Ben and Leslie’s choice for a ‘life in the woods’ is a kind of social experiment. The kids are educated to think critically, and trained to be physically fit, athletic, and self-reliant.
The film has been positively reviewed because of its critique of capitalist’s exploitative, alienating, and unsustainable characteristics. Captain Fantastic explores the idea of how today’s civilization is questionable, in regards to how we live. The film shows the audience the benefits of this survivalist way of life by conveying how intelligent these kids are with respects to kids living in modern civilization. At the same time, the movie captures the cons of Ben ideals. Throughout the movie, it makes you think whether Ben went too far by raising his kids through the lens of his ideals. Although they were philosophically educated, and knowing multiple languages, socialization with other people than family was unfamiliar to them, as we are shown in the films as well. At the end of the movie the family reaches a middle point between his survivalist ideals and modern society, which advertises how we should ideally live our lives. A sustainable lifestyle, which everyone could adopt into their lives. Safe to the climate and nature and to ourselves.
Despite the critique of modern technology, paradoxically what makes this film an interesting case is that the film itself is an expression of how cinema as one of the most popular of cultural and technological practices is able to reflect on the social, economic and cultural implications of ‘breaking with modern technology’.