Like the characters in this story, this movie is unabashedly R. Not trying to be R, but R regaRRRRRRdless.
DIRECTOR: Matt Ross
Ask my wife if she liked this one. (She really liked it.) For some reason, I thought that Viggo Mortensen won this one. Sure, I predicted and rooted for Casey Affleck. But after watching this one, I could have sworn that he won. I'm still going to stand by Casey Affleck, but Mortensen does a pretty solid job in this one. But I find this movie really thrives way beyond the performance of its lead. I can't swear this as an Academy Award winner, but I'm genuinely shocked that it wasn't nominated for Best Picture. I'm serious. Hell or High Water? Pheh! Captain Fantastic? I can get behind it. I'm not saying it's a copy of Little Miss Sunshine, but it would make a heck of a double feature with it for sure.
The thing I love most about this story is the very idea of compromise. Every screenwriter always presents a binary option for our protagonist. Why? I know it feels like it's a cop out to have a character think about his or her actions before moving on that idea. This is a movie that, while bizarre with its character choices, has the morality of the real world. The characters are extremists when it comes to philosophy and lifestyle, but Matt Ross did a wonderful job in how they approach real world problems. They are problem solvers. Mortensen's Ben is extremely pigheaded. He's not always wrong, but he often isn't completely right either. Ross paints the world without too many true antagonists. The primary antagonist is not a bad guy. I'm talking about Frank Langella's grandfather character. We, as an audience, get furious at him for his equally frustrating pigheadedness. But both of them are right and both of them are wrong. While most stories present a world where two polarizing concepts can't possible meet somewhere in the middle, both characters move slightly. We usually either only see one or the other move. I love the humanity that comes out of this. Perhaps its because I'm sick of the political climate right now, but these people start with seeing each other as evil and they see the humanity in each other. See? Now I'm crying! (Okay, I'm not. But my heart feels stuff.)
I also applaud the way that Ross treats mental illness and depression. Depression is something that is really hard to put a face on. It's one of those diseases that makes us angry. Because it IS an illness and that should never be forgotten. But one thing our society has ignored is the anger that others feel about depression. That anger is a valid emotion. Rell's emotions towards his father and his mother are valid. We could tell Rell all day long that his mother's suicide was no one's fault, but that doesn't change the fact that he will forever be angry at those who drove his mother to suicide. The complexity of life is what makes this film special. Too often, we get absolutes. Emotions seem so powerful and Ross does a (Captain) fantastic job of conveying the complexity of the day to day. I'm impressed. Like, really impressed.
I keep alluding to Ben's pigheadedness. Mortensen plays the character with a degree of finesse for someone who is such a sledgehammer of a character. Ben is rough on those kids. But the one thing that I really noticed behind the eyes is the love that Ben has for those kids. It would have been so easy to play the character of Ben as intense and angry at the frustrations of the world around him. The concept of being hard on a child to make the child the best version of him or herself is central to this whole story. There are things that I absolutely love about Ben's childrearing philosophy, but there are so many things that I just abhor. I'm part of the world. I embrace comfort and advancement. But I also acknowledge the lack of education that some students are getting. Ben's perspective is intense, so intense that the contrast of "civilized society" seem gross. Ross takes the audience and places them in the world of this unique family. He does it so well that he can insult and blaspheme many of the things I hold righteous and moral and end the movie with me laughing at it. Honest to Pete, there is a moment of straight up blasphemy and I couldn't help but chuckle. Ben is disgusted by the way I live my life, but I feel like he is allowed to say that. It's his lack of violence or anger. He is motivated, be it as bizarre as it is, not by hatred of people but by sympathy. He never has that moment where he's going to hit a human being, despite regularly being confronted about his own lifestyle. He trains his children in combat and survival. He would win every fight that comes his way, but there isn't a moment where I really consider that he's going to confront his attacker.
I suppose the movie is all about Living and Letting Live. It's pretty hippie-ish. But the movie has a point. I don't approve of the things that go on with his family all the time, but we live in a world that is far more complex and sophisticated than what a snapshot can capture. I'm not saying that there isn't objective truth and I acknowledge that there are evils and wrongs in the world. But I also know that the world is a dangerous and complicated place and the movie does a fantastic job of presenting that. In isolation, some of the scenes would be absolutely horrifying. But there is an understanding of almost every choice in this movie. The icing on the cake? Ben learns that too. That's very cool. We are imperfect people in a confusing world and Ben can't throw stones as much as we shouldn't throw stones at him. Things sometimes just don't make sense.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.