Captain Fantastic: Great movie about living off the grid

Categories: Life Stories, Inspiration, Homesteading, Fun, Education, On The Farm

Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, isolated from society, a devoted father (Viggo Mortensen) dedicates his life to transforming his six young children into extraordinary adults. But when a tragedy strikes the family, they are forced to leave this self-created paradise and begin a journey into the outside world that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent and brings into question everything he's taught them.

“My mother was interested in alternative living situations,” Writer/Director Ross explains. “When I was a kid, it wasn’t called living ‘off the grid,’ but we did live in communes in Northern California and Oregon. We were in the middle of nowhere without television or most modern technology.” The original term “off the grid” referred specifically to the power grid that tied people to public utilities, and therefore to communities, corporations, and centralized planning.

When Thoreau suggested in Walden that “a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone,” he was in essence defining the nature of living off the grid, a social and philosophical economy being embraced by more and more people every year. The reasons why, and the ways in which, people go off the grid, however, vary drastically. In his 2010 book Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America, Nick Rosen discovered that while more and more people are packing up and heading for the hills, there is no single reason that motivates them. “The people living this way––the off-gridders––might be middle class environmentalists or right-wing survivalists, victims of foreclosure or long-term pot-growers, international business travelers with their own islands or groups of friends who decided to start a community,” Rosen explains.

What connects them is a desire to live independently, like that found in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC. We explore a few of these off-the-grid trends and the films that capture their spirit.

The beginning of writer/director Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic feels like both a naturalistic utopia and a cult of dangerous ideas. Bodevan (George McKay), the eldest of Ben Cash’s (Viggo Mortensen) six children, hides in the woods in camouflage as he waits to attack a deer. After the slaughter, Ben smears the animal’s blood across his son’s face and offers him the heart to consume. This is the Cash family’s version of a Bar Mitzvah, Bodevan’s rite of passage into manhood.

Ben raises his six children in a hand-built tepee in a forest in the Pacific Northwest. They hunt, kill, and cook their own game, even the youngest kids. They grow their own crops, make their own clothes from animal hides, and each day they gather to do rigorous physical and educational training. As dreamy as that sounds for anyone with an affinity for living off the earth, you can't help but ask: Is this one man’s obsession with Walden gone too far? At first, the kids seem engineered, or too perfect to be real, leading you to question if Ben is just a renegade hippie sheltering his children from the dangers of society à la the real-life father of The Wolfpack or the deranged parents of Dogtooth. But as we get to know this family of creative, brilliant, and compassionate children, it becomes clear Ben has figured out something few parents have.

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