Captain Fantastic ★★★

There's a genre of films, mostly American, that are obsessed with the idea of escapism, returning to nature, disconnecting from society to rediscover man's true self or some variation thereof. This is among the better versions of these films. Viggo Mortenson, as he does with most of his characters, is not only believable but demands empathy. He earned his best actor nomination in spades. The children, too, are all fantastic. In fact the story, writing, direction and cast all come together quite well.

Ultimately, though, the escapist fantasy falls apart on one vector. People are social beings. Raising a family in isolation, no matter how well you raise them, how much you teach your kids, how smart they become, they can never succeed at that most important of human endeavor -- helping each other, building a just and fruitful society. This is where the escapist fantasy dies for me. Some of the tenets of this film, of the philosophy of its central figures (not lying, not shielding kids from complicated truths, pointing out society's flaws, holding up a mirror to cultural decay) are attractive. But these should be in service of society, not in opposition to it. This film, and many in this genre, are too self-fulfilled by the idea that some utopia exists out in nature. And anyone intrepid enough to seek it and obtain it should be happy enough keeping it to themselves, instead of coming back into the world and helping make it better for everyone else.