“Ben” (Viggo Mortensen) lives in the pacific North west with his six kids, living in tents, hunting for food and completed arduous regimented physical exercise every day.
The kids know everything there is to know from books, can recite the bill of rights, kill a deer, quote from any classical text and climb a sheer cliff with a strained wrist.
However knowing their Star Trek Mr Spock from the child rearing specialist of the same name, not so much. Instead of celebrating Christmas (tacky and consumerist), the family instead recognise Noam Chomsky day (celebrated philosopher and liberal). All very laudable but unlikely to be a crowd pleaser at a teen party, when conversation turns to the latest PS4 game.
The children are happy and content, arguably because they know no different, merely accepting the reality in which they find themselves.
When tragedy strikes, the family have to board the old bus “Steve” and travel to an event where they will not be welcome. Not so much fish out of water but a fish attempting to ride a bicycle whilst juggling, the kids have no reference points to guide them.
Is this a subtle form of non physical child neglect? – discuss
Ben and his wife Leslie believe they have found a better way of life for themselves and the children. Teaching self sufficiency and self defence whilst eschewing most modern world “advances” and temptations.
The film delights in illustrating the absolute extremes between the lives these children lead and those of his wife’s family. The look of horror in the children faces as they watch violent video games is worth the price of admission. No matter the same children could field dress a deer with their new Ka-Bar knives whilst blindfolded.
In some ways the kids have a great life away from the pressures of modern society, they are home schooled far beyond what conventional schools would teach them. Yet in many ways, they know nothing of the world.
Mortensen as expected is solid, providing strong support to the universally good younger actors. “Bo” (George MacKay) being the eldest has most to do and provides a handy audience view into the workings, frustrations and dynamics of the family.
Mortensen gets later support from some fine character actors, Frank Langella, Steve Zahn and Kathryn Hahn. The film moves into more fantastical territory towards the end which blunts the message somewhat, however the film raises more questions than answers, making a neat ending elusive. The idea that a family can opt out and in of society as required, also suggests some level of hypocrisy.
The film does introduce social commentary into the story but does not ram it home, deliberately exaggerating two diverse lifestyles suggests a middle road as the sweet spot for most.
Maybe there is something in the gentle unwritten subtext of the story we can all learn from. Also watch out for a neat non threatening way to persuade the cops to leave you alone or else….
A morally complex story resonating well after the credits roll. Well acted by both the leads and younger cast.
Ultimately marginally flawed but well worth a look, the story poses interesting questions without any easy solutions