Rebelling against what he views as an oppressive system run by “fascist capitalists”, eccentric father Ben Cash (Mortenson) raises his six children with an extensive physical and intellectual education as they are sheltered from the real world. Engraining them with left-wing ideology, it is obvious from the start that this is no normal family as they hunt for their food, scale mountains for sport and celebrate the birthdays of influential humanitarians over traditional holidays. After their mother commits suicide, Ben is forced to take his children into the outside world for the first time to attend her funeral, despite his protests.
MacKay's portrayal of Bo is vulnerable and, at times, heartbreaking
Pre-1917 fame sees George MacKay swap the WW1 trenches for an American role as the eldest Cash son Bodevan, aka Bo. Hiding his desire to go into the real world from his father, MacKay’s portrayal of Bo is vulnerable and, at times, heart-breaking as he is unable to communicate properly with people his own age. Despite the intense home-schooling education he has been subjected to, he must hide his impressive college acceptance letters from his father, knowing he won’t approve.
Although the children have been taught a wide scope of subjects and are extremely intelligent, it is clear when they leave the forest that they aren’t equipped to deal with reality. On the other hand, there is something to be said for contemporary society in comparison to the Cash family’s lifestyle. This is obvious in the difference between the Cash children and their cousins, who know little about the American political system and favour their gaming devices over books and real conversation. In other words, modern children are portrayed as ignorant and spoilt. As the Cash children are exposed more and more to the real world and their extended family, loyalties become divided as they see how much bigger the world really is beyond their home in the forest.
Despite critical acclaim at film festivals such as Cannes, the film was overlooked at all major award ceremonies, securing only one Oscar nomination in the best actor category for Mortenson. It’s films like these that show that the Oscars are nothing to go by, making Captain Fantastic an unexpected indie hit.