“Captain Fantastic:” The Ship of Life and Donuts

All we do is play the game of codes. But this game is a “no-win,” and there is no replay button because, unlike video games, this game applies to chronological time order.

Welcome to the game of codes, where the characters are people, the setting is the social realm, and the soundtrack is that of constant buzzing telling us to obey, to participate, and feel comfortable. But there are also outcasts, those who decide to stay at a distance from the never-ending, never-getting-tired-of, competitive game, and those who observe and decode the social orders, question and deny them, celebrating what is pure and unconventional. Eventually, the opposite of comfort is not necessarily discomfort.    

Captain Fantastic,” directed by Matt Ross, a film that was released recently, reveals exactly that kind of experience. It tells the story of a family living in the blissful isolation in the wilderness of Pacific Northwest. The mother of the family has recently died, and the father has become the captain of the ship. They eat healthy food, read and sing around the evening campfire, celebrate Noam Chomsky’s day inverted by them, and one gets the impression of a blissful, yet uncanny, atmosphere.

But as the story develops, multiple levels of human relationships uncover. There is a thick tension not only between the antagonistic relations of this transcendentalfamily and the prosaic life of the urbanized commune, but also much deeper, inherent tension within the family itself. Characters present themselves in duality. The Captain, who encourages his children never to digest any information before questioning its truthfulness, also doesn’t want to have his authority questioned. This duality is very well portrayed by the terrific acting of Viggo Mortensen.  


The veil of idealistic life in the wilderness transforms into something uncanny and contradictory when triggered by the outside world, raising doubts whether it’s possible to live in an ideal world that they have constructed for themselves.

Even Henry David Thoreau, the author of “Walden” and one of the major representatives of Transcendentalism, who removed himself from society by choosing the life in the wilderness, every Sunday, was visited by his mother and sister with a basket of food and donuts. This is a rather amusing fact to know, but in a deeper level it questions the authenticity of Thoreau and his philosophy, at the same time probably disappointing us with the fact that things are not as idealistic as they seem to be.

Living in a different context, going through the road that is not mapped, and doing that without donuts is hard and requires braveness, but it’s a pure act that originates from the secret dimensions of the soul; and pure acts are always joyful. I’m sure that is what Thoreau felt and that is what the captain felt with his ship crew: the joy of living in the unmapped reality, because at the end of the day, true places cannot be found on the map.   


Anush Ter-Khachatryan


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