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31st January 2017

Review: Captain Fantastic

Power to the people, stick it to the man

Is university a waste of our limited time on this planet?

As the imminent exams drain our energy and motivation drop by drop, only the thought that someday it’ll be worth it keeps us from storming out of the Ali G and heading off to do whatever it is we’d rather be doing. After all, our education will help us become better people, achieve our goals and be satisfied with our lives at the end of the day.

Only it won’t. Not according to Captain Fantastic, at least. To Ben Cash, father of six and recently widowed, traditional education is a waste of potential, teaching nothing but how to adapt to a world which is messed up in the first place. His own kids have been reared in a cabin in the woods, speak multiple languages, possess a thorough understanding of the Bill of Rights and are trained in combat. As unrealistic as their omniscience may be, it does make you wonder if there are better ways to assimilate knowledge than spending twenty years slouching on an endless series of chairs, struggling to retain information. We are fully aware that a good deal of it will probably fade away once we’ve passed our exams. What’s more, Ben and his wife Leslie raise their kids to despise not just traditional education but the entire system, with its injustice and repression – watching sweet-looking eight-year-olds spew curses and discuss the meaning of fascism is both unsettling and amusing. When the whole family shows up at her austere Catholic funeral in colourful clothing and flowers in their hair, proclaiming that the dearly departed Leslie wished for her ashes to be dumped in a public toilet, the darkly-clad congregation throws Ben out as if he were insane.

Of course, this is perfectly obtuse and unreasonable on their part: Ben is a loving father who only gives his children dangerous weapons to teach them how to slaughter woodland creatures, and only makes them shoplift because he refuses to buy “poisonous” food from a fast food restaurant. I wonder how many of us would sympathise with that logic in real life. The film reverses the established mindset, making normal life seem absurd and an absurd life seem far closer to us. It is certainly not a novelty for a movie to make us root for the outcast who refuses to comply to a rotten system. However, this film is brilliant at making a radical and dangerous life choice so appealing. I sincerely hope that even those of us who do not plan on dropping everything and retiring to a cabin in the woods still nourish the hope of experiencing a full and meaningful life, perhaps even improving the rotten system.

Overall, I think this is a beautiful film. It reminds its audience that they are in control of their life, regardless of how helpless they may feel in an oppressive reality and encourages them to savour every aspect of this world. Any artwork which can deliver this message without precipitating into cheesiness is worth seeing.


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