Captain fantastic- Revisited

Film Language and how it makes meaning

  • Cinematography
  • Mise-en scene
  • Sound
  • Editing
  • Performance


  • Who are we aligned with? How?
  • Are we encouraged to watch the scene passively or actively? How?
  • How might different people interpret the scene differently?
  • What is your individual response to the scene?


  • What messages, values or attitudes are presented e.g. in relation to gender, politics, education or family?
  • Do these support or challenge mainstream messages, values or attitudes?

Opening scene (0:00-04:36)-

Image result for captain fantastic deer

Establishing shows of the forest sets the scene and is peaceful and calm.

Shots of family washing together shows that they are a close family and the fact that they live in the forest and use the resources of the forest to live on.

Family photographs all feature a mother figure however she is not with them in this scene.

Bo hunts the dear and is then declared a man by his father.

Hunting is stereo typically masculine.

Fast paced editing while Bo kills the deer this contrasts the the slow peaceful editing during the opening establishing shots.

links to David Gilmore’s representation of men “man the provider”.

Clear gender roles as men hunt and women prepare the food.

Montage after the hunt acting playful re enforces their family values of togetherness and sticking together.

Dinner Scene (44:08 -49:36)-

Image result for captain fantastic dinner scene

Medium long shot of the dinner scene and the 2 families are divided at either side of the table this could reflect their different views and ideologies.

The 2 families costume also contrasts as Harper’s family wears modern mainstream clothes as Ben’s family wears brightly coloured unconventional clothes.

Ben is positioned at the head of the table with everyone else surrounding him could suggest that he is an authority figure who wants his views to be heard.


Spectators are encouraged to watch this scene actively as they are given 2 points of view and are encouraged to choose who they agree with. Depending on the spectators individual beliefs and values will depend on which side they take.

Elements of film form within captain fantastic-



Framing of Ben in the rear view mirror in close up is repeated throughout the film establishing that he is in some ways isolated even from his family. Shots of him isolated become more and more frequent throughout the narrative.

The film is immersive and the visual style encourages the spectator to feel they are present, taking part. Matt Ross, “I wanted to shoot handheld because… I felt a more classical or formal manifestation of photography would put you at an arm’s length. I wanted to be in the scene, not watch the scene.”

Mise en scene-


  • Costumes of the family suggest they are out of touch with the modern world. Jack refers to Ben as, “some hippy in a clown outfit”. This sense of being from a different time is reinforced by Ben’s ‘Jesse Jackson 88’ t-shirt in a later scene.
  • Lighting in the basketball court scene where Bo and Rellian discuss Ben is very harsh and contrasts with the naturalistic lighting in most of the film. The blackness created here lends gravity to their difficult conversation about whether Ben is “dangerous” or not.
  • Hair as symbolic – Ben shaves his beard and Bo, his head, to mark lifestyle changes and transitions in identity

Funeral scene-

Ben and his family wear unconventional costumes for a funeral and contrasts everyone’s dark clothing.

Ben uses obscene language during the funeral and may be perceived as offensive.



  • Matt Ross was keen to avoid obvious editing as he stated, “The thing I’ve always hoped for is to lose myself in the movie”. Captain fantastic adheres to the principles of continuity editing, almost without exception.
  • Ben’s hallucinations of Leslie break from the editing techniques used in the rest of the film as they are intended to be other-worldly. In these brief scenes there is a visual softness, choral religious music and lighting effects that see her appear, fade away and re-appear.



  • Diegetic music used to symbolise Rellian’s rebellion and assertion of individuality as he uses confrontational drumming to challenge Ben’s acoustic guitar music.
  • Playing bagpipe music on the bus suggests they are an army going into battle. This is anchored by Ben saying, “so they know we are coming.”
  • The train sounds used when Bo looks through his university acceptance letters suggest impending conflict.


The film subtly isolates the spectator, who is presumably less intelligent than Ben and his children.

  • It name-drops dozens of intellectuals, with even his teenage son throwing around sentences such as “Only a Stalinist would say Trotskyite. I’m a Maoist.”
  • In a scene on the bus where the two teenage twin daughters are speaking in Esperanto and Ben is speaking to them in German, the film does not include subtitles – it does not want to include you in on the conversation; the point is to regard the characters’ intellect from a distance.

Representations, meanings and responses and spectatorship-

Shot reverse shot is used to encourage a active spectator and try and show both sides to the argument between Ben and Jack.


Matt Ross, “I didn’t want to vilify anyone. No one in this film is the villain”.

Ideology – messages & values-

Captain Fantastic is an anti-capitalist film. The family refuse to live in a society which they refer to as “capitalistic fascism”. They refuse to live a life controlled by money and material goods. They instead form a self-sufficient way of living, where nothing but demanding physical routines and in-depth learning of maths, physics, literature and philosophy fill their daily schedule.

Ideology – messages & values-

Critique of contemporary American society. One of the film’s taglines is, ‘Americans are over medicated and under educated’ and when the children enter mainstream society they comment on the obesity of those around them, “everyone is so fat”, “are they sick?”.

Closing scene-


: In the end, Ben conceives of a new beginning for his family. A synthesis between his ideals and those of modern society bring peace and resolution to their troubled lives. The mise en scene is made up of a small house surrounded by nature, a perfect hybrid of both worlds. The paper bags instead of plastic lunchboxes for school also exemplifies the compromises that have been made.









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