This week, Lost Films is showcasing Captain Fantastic, a story about the Cash family, who live isolated in the wilderness of Washington state. The father, Ben, and his wife Leslie educate their children on their own and teach them how to survive disconnected from modern conveniences and technology. When Leslie suddenly dies, Ben takes his children back into mainstream society for the first time. There’s a lot to break down in this film, so I spoke with Eli Grubb and Abigail McBride from SAB to hear their take.
Ashlyn Miller, Student Director of the Pulse: One of the main themes explored in the film is the idea of being “off the grid”, as the family in the film is very disconnected from general society. What do you think students can learn from observing that relationship with technology?
Eli Grubb, Lost Films Executive: I think that’s one of the main reasons we decided to bring in this film—because it was a direct contrast to the way we live now. In that we’re able to see what we like and dislike about the way (the Cash family) lives. It’s a movie that can both challenge the way we live now and confirm some of those ideas.
Abigail McBride, Cultural Engagement Executive: It’s funny, because coming from a perspective of someone who was homeschooled, which a large percentage of Messiah students are as well, maybe the way this family lives wasn’t so different from my life growing up. (laughs) I think there is something to the fact that culture has become so pluralistic, to a degree that we’re all kind of outsiders. There is some part of our culture today that we don’t really agree with. It’s interesting how this film exaggerates some of the main differences in our culture today. So it’s definitely a timely message as well. How do we interact with someone who’s different from us?
AM: Beyond technology, this film also approaches topics like consumerism and materialism. What were your takeaways from that aspect of the film?
EG: I think there’s multiple points where (the Cash family) is put into these extravagant situations. There is one scene where they are with their cousins who are playing video games and they are just amazed at these things they’re playing with. The (Cash) family itself is focused on each other and learning, and then they get placed in another family that is just focused on what they have, so that other family doesn’t really challenge themselves at all.
AMB: I think (the exploration of this topic) revealed the frailty of both sides. For example, one of the (Cash) girls falls off a roof and has to be taken to the hospital. All of those innovations—the hospital and the car that gets them there—are driven by consumerism. So, what’s the middle ground? You’re stuck with these two ways—one seems untenable, like they’re going to die in the woods, and the other (consumerism) seems disgusting because of how self-satisfied it is.
AM: I think that tension is one of the most important aspects of the film. Do you feel like that critique is split evenly between modernist and survivalist sides, or do think the film has a leaning one way or the other?
EG: I don’t think this film seeks to have these two sides have a conversation. I think it just says, here is this isolationist way of living, and I don’t think there’s a ton of points where that argument plays out. It forces you to analyze it afterwards.
AMB: I think this film asks questions to the audience. We’re already pretty familiar with the materialist side of it, so we kind of get immersed in this other side. The question I kept asking myself was what was even the point of them doing this—this radical extraction from society? The one (Cash) son gets accepted to all of these prestigious schools, but the dad won’t let him go. So what’s even the point of all of these skills if you’re going to live and die in the woods? The film keeps asking, what’s the point of living this way versus another way?
AM: One of the most intriguing characters in the movie is the father, Ben. Ironically, he encourages his children to not answer to anyone, but there’s kind of this parallel where he is dictating how they should live. How did you wrestle with that?
EG: The first time I saw the movie, I was really angry after seeing it, and that was a large part of it. The kids can do whatever they want, but he can never be wrong. It’s a lot of them regurgitating his thoughts directly back to him. Ben never really gives in to anybody.
AMB: It made me think of the exhaustiveness of culture and counterculture and how we’re constantly doing those. We’re kind of confined to one or the other. We so often align ourselves with a discourse and then stick to that, which isn’t originality of thought. The film makes reference to so many different thinkers throughout history and part of what I wondered while watching is how do we make meaning of that when there is constantly this reactionary thing?
AM: Despite the relatively odd behavior of the father, the director doens’t really address it, he kind of leaves it as is. How do you feel about the director not providing any commentary to Ben’s behavior?
AMB: I think it’s so key that he doesn’t. If he criticizes the father or other cultures explicitly (as Ben does) he would be succumbing to the same trap. So he’s kind of taking you along this process. Which is what some of these things, like counter-cultural movements, are trying to do at their best—they’re trying to instill in you a process rather than a destination. I think that’s what this movie is—forcing you to look at things and form your own opinion about it, whether you’re really angry about it or you’re really attracted to it. The frustrating thing the movie doesn’t give you a conclusion, but that’s what the director is saying. If he spoon-fed it to you, it would be the same as everyone else.
AM: Eli and Abigail, thanks for your thoughts! We hope to have you back in soon!
Captain Fantastic will be showing this weekend in Parmer Cinema on Friday at 6 and 9 p.m. and Saturday at 3, 6 and 9 p.m. Student tickets are 2 dollars and guests 5 dollars. Want more information or have comments on the movie lineup? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.