Thursday, September 15, 2016

Random Film Review: Captain Fantastic

Dir: Matt Ross | 2016 | USA

Mark Kermode, reviewing Captain Fantastic in the Guardian, makes the link between the film and the Elton John album of the same name, released in 1975. Though there were references throughout to high culture, from Glenn Gould to Noam Chomsky, I must admit I felt the spirit of Bob Dylan permeate the film and was surprised at no mention of the man – until the final credits, when a lovely cover version of I Shall be Released (sung by Kirk Ross) is played over the letterpress-style end credits.

The film, in its rejection of consumer culture and retreating into the wilderness, reminded me of Bob Dylan circa. 1967-1970, the period after his infamous motorcycle crash when he vanishes from public view and retreats to his house in bucolic Woodstock, NY. Here he produces albums tinged with the pastoral, the spiritual and nature: The Basement Tapes, John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and New Morning.

Other music in the film includes a snippet from Glenn Gould's famous Goldberg Variations. Linking to this and perhaps more relevant, Gould's Solitude Trilogy is a fascinating series of hour-long radio shows he produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Service between 1967-77. Reflecting the theme of 'withdrawal from the world', the first show looks at the Idea of North, specifically the North Canadian wilderness. Experimental in style, with over-lapping voices (nurse, sociologist, anthropologist, prospector) sometimes speaking at once, as well as music and the rumbling of trains, it creates a unique collage of sound. Quotes from it, such as 'it's easier to be against something than for something' and the battle 'not against mother nature but human nature' could almost come from the film.

The second part, The Latecomers, looks at Newfoundland. Recorded in 1969, with the sound of crashing waves roars continually over the soundtrack and a male voice declaring presciently ‘we’re all victims of technology’ and in the future we will pay people to be idle. An alternative to work will have to be found, and we need to find a fulfilling life without having to punch a clock every morning. It was hoped that the next generation would be able to combine material and spiritual life.

The third episode, Quiet in the Land, deals with the Mennonite community of Red River, Manitoba. Janis Joplin's anti-consumerism song Mercedes Benz (recorded three days before she died) plays over the voices. It questions the American Dream, and looks at alternatives to consumerism. The Mennonite community at the time were moving to the cities and becoming more materialistic. Solitude and isolation are the main themes of the trilogy; Gould himself was a bit of a hermit.

Viggo Mortensen's character (Ben Cash) in Captain Fantastic reminded me of my brother – everything from the beard to his way of life (though not the six kids). But by the end of the film, Ben has let go his rather extreme existence, and reached a happily compromise – something I mentioned in my recent Peru post, where I'd been looking fruitlessly for a happy medium between travelling (fun) and working (boring) for twenty years.

The film has had mixed reviews, but for me (and my girlfriend) it was pure joy and inspiration.


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