captain Fantastic

The Wild Man Archetype?

Warning Maxi Spoiler.

This post is dedicated to the people who have seen or aren’t opposed to seeing Captain Fantastic even so I am going to tell all about it.

I saw this movie twice, once with Jerry and the other with Tâm.  We loved it.  We wept.  And yes my daughter now knows everything about “sexual intercourse.” (she knew about it already but it was better explained there)


I then read a lot of things about the critics of our capitalist and ultra consumerist world, ode to our children’s education, a return to nature and philosophy, of course all these themes really touched me (for those who were wondering what  Spirit Horse, looks like, this is it… without any Hollywood) (at all).  While deeply into reading Clarissa Pincola Estes, of course I saw this striking analogy in the build of the story.  A story about males of course.

I have never read anything about the potential archetype of the wild man, nothing about his psyche (well, yes a few things finally, I am getting there), but there was in Captain Fantastic some striking elements of masculinity that were at the same time glorious and… dangerous.


So, just like with Clarissa, if you start with the principle that the entire movie and its characters are representing the psyche of one and same man, it seems to hold the road: a man lost his wife (his feminine side?) and declares “we don’t change a thing.”  His 6 kids are themselves a part of HIS own psyche, eventually at 6 different stages of his development.  We’ll notice that the education is not particularly gendered: except for that opening scene where it’s the oldest son Bo who kills the deer, and the two sisters who are butchering it, globally everyone is doing their work out, their combat games, the cooking, the music, and even the readings.  It’s only during my second viewing (with subtitles) that I understood the gender of the two latest kids.

The education is the same and genderless but the only characters who are going to develop in the movie are the boys:  the last one learns how to dress himself, going from baby stage to small boy, the teen in anger learns to oppose and put things in perspective, the eldest to emancipate himself and to finally take off on his own (he will get on a plane btw).  The 3 girls don’t really develop in the movie.  They are all gorgeous (beautiful, combative and super smart), but they don’t have specific problems to solve.


Captain Fantastic is in “mission” mode.  Bah he’s the Captain!  All the tasks to accomplish are done in a military fashion or with a specific objective and evaluation session.  There is a very, very, very large bus, very long and very wide and it takes a lot of room around his sister’s table.  Which could symbolize the space that he occupies when he faces “normal” life (the family X here is represented by his sister) (very “nice” but not very aware that she completely deserted her children’s education) (not being aware of her own laziness).  The guy imposes!

Tough luck, the space he occupies is still very small compared to the entire society, patriarchal society symbolized by the great parents (the loving and authoritarian grandfather, the loving and submissive grandmother) and their great wealth.

my friend Geraldine said that she found him arrogant and indeed, you can see in many of the remarks or children’s attitude, in perpetual judgment of each other.  “This house is a vulgar show of wealth” while talking about the grandparent’s house.

CF_00381 Viggo Mortensen stars as Ben in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, a Bleecker Street release. Credit: Wilson Webb / Bleecker Street

But what really touched me with this male that you easily can call dominant, is his capacity to love and to listen.  A listening that often happens with delay:  when you have something in your head, you first must get rid of it before accepting a different path.  But a listening that still happens. He is a man made of love… ahhhh!

A listening which when blended with his courage allows him (finally) to cry and to renounce it all (children and beard).  Mustn’t you be capable of letting it all go (grip) to be valorous?  Free?  Honest?

And of course to be born again?  Just like magic, right when Captain dropped it all, his kids are reappearing from the very inside of the bus (his psyche rebirths and repopulates itself).

I heard of a pseudo theory from David Deida that roughly said:

“the Masculine is a captain in “mission” mode.  He must cross the sea and connect point A to point B.  He’s a squadron leader who builds his own boat and organizes his crew to achieve his goal.

The Feminine is… the sea itself.”

I don’t know… But it really resonates with me.  And if we go back to Miyazaki, maybe we remember Ponyo, of her dad (the submarine major) and her mother (the immense ocean lady).  GE NIUS.

"PONYO" Gran Mamare © 2009 Nibariki-GNDHDDT© 2008 Nibariki-GNDHDDT. All rights reserved.

To each then, man, woman, trans, to find their own balance between the feminine and the masculine.

For me Captain Fantastic sees his world crumble because he sacrificed his feminine to pursue his ideals.  He stayed in “mission” mode.  And he forgot the sea.  As we finally learn that his wife died because he didn’t want to listen to her. Therefore Captain Fantastic’s feminine was sick.  A large chunk of him died (his wife).  “Yes I knew it.” he finally admits. His wife is dead but his entire feminine is not.  He has kids.  And it’s his daughter who gets into an accident who lastly makes him understand.

The movie tells the story of a long acceptance of his own mistake.  “No, there is no more mission,” he tells his kids.  Utopia often ends badly, because they forget “the sea” this whole world within which we must live.  They become this “dangerous man.”  And the fact that he returned back “to the” life at the end of the movie enormously moved me.


I also liked some symbols here and there.  We talked about the large bus, we could talk about death in colors, the titanic sound with panpipes in the mall scene (huge).  I also loved that the captain immersed himself under a waterfall or a big shower before announcing (the mother’s death and the dad’s departure).  This water that hits you and embrace you at the same time.

We can be a dominant male and become dangerous. we can be a dominant male and become “kind” (what do you think Geraldine?). The movie begins and ends by two superb scene of handover, transfer from father to son in “male to male” mode, but with all the solemnness and sensibility and love of course.  Because yes the dominant male will be able to create without destroying if he knows how to call out the feminine forces to face his destiny.  To find again the water strength, to submit to it and of course, to look at death, that we sometimes sow, straight in the eyes before letting go (and flush it). By listening, music and life will flow again.

Finally, beyond the consumerism critic, Captain Fantastic offers a much more global approach and an answer to our world in crisis.  An answer that lays within each of us.


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