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Critical Essay about American Life Style

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The movie Captain Fantastic directed by Matt Ross explores and critiques aspects of modern American lifestyle and culture. Ben Cash’s perspectives, values, and lifestyle are portrayed through questions on anti-capitalist resistance, comparison of mainstream lifestyles, mental issues, and parenting. The title “Captain Fantastic” is amusing however deliberately deceptive. Ross challenges the audience's preconceived superheroic expectations. Ross’s film follows Ben Cash and his six children, who live an isolated, unique, and primitivist lifestyle in the woods. Ben Cash is the focal patriarch of the family. Significantly, the film's main central conflict is positioned around Ben’s uncompromising attitude toward his eccentric beliefs, values, and lifestyle. Through the occurrence of a dreadful passing and Ross challenging the mainstream approach to funerals and death, the film celebrates the complexities of life. The viewers are invited to deliberate existential possibilities of mainstream American culture, parenting techniques, and the beliefs and values that varying lifestyles display.

Ross’s portrayal of Ben’s lifestyle in the forest shows how profound, self-sufficient, and strong Ben’s values and beliefs are. Through the techniques of bright lighting beaming through the trees, birds-eye view shots of the mountains, and the trickling sound of the river flowing, Ross conveys to the audience in considering how peaceful, uncontaminated, and pure the family’s environment is. In comparison to the urban setting when the family journeys into mainstream America, where fast-paced shots, panning shots of crowded buildings, use of grey tones, and pollution from factories strongly contrast the purity of life and beauty of nature. Ross positively represents Ben’s values of healthy food and lifestyle. The beginning scenes show how self-sufficient the family is, they grow their own vegetables, kill their own meat and partake in intense physical activity. The lifestyle they have heavily endorses foods with the high nutritional value needed to maintain their physically active life. Ross supports the family values when they are confronted by the American diet and the health conditions of the people they encounter. The confronting close-up shot of the children’s stunned faces by the obesity issue in America, the children’s dialogue and comments include; “Are they sick?”, “Everyone’s so fat”. When the family arrives at a diner, Ben with concern reads through the menu. He realizes that “there is no actual food on this menu”, and refers to Cola as “poison water” suggesting that the food consumed by Americans has no nutritional value. When the family stops at Ben’s sister-in-law Harper’s home, Ross highlights the difference between Ben’s values of education and those of mainstream. Harper insists Ben enrolls his children in a school, as opposed to an illegal home school system. Ben’s main catchphrases are “power to the people” and “stick it to the man”, but ironically Ben’s perspective on people is that they shouldn’t share power equally nor that all people are equal. Ross successfully supports Ben’s education values and lifestyle by comparing the effectiveness of his teaching to his nephews’ traditional education. A question is asked to both the nephews regarding the Bill of Rights. The younger son replies: “Um, what something costs, I guess”, “It's a government thing, right?”. In comparison the reply of Ben’s youngest daughter who states an insightful analysis of the Bill of Rights, surprises Harper and the audience with her deep understanding.

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Ross challenges the mainstream approach to death and funerals by making Ben’s valued perspective contrastingly dissimilar by depicting a different idea about funerals as opposed to the conventional approach. After Ben learns that his wife has committed suicide, he tells his children that “Mommy killed herself”, portraying to the audience that his value of truth is kept consistent even when it comes to death. Ross has created a drastic comparison between Ben’s approach and Harper’s mainstream approach to death. The close-up shot shows how Ben is visibly disturbed as Dave refuses to tell the children the truth and the dialogue is as follows “She was really sick and died”, Ben tells them the harsh truth with the dialogue “She slit her wrists”. The close-up shot showing Harper’s concern shows how Ross has portrayed Ben in a negative light. The audience comes to question if Ben’s parenting technique in regard to honesty is socially acceptable with the subject of death. Leslie’s conservative parents initiated having a conventional catholic funeral, despite their Buddhist daughters’ requests. Through Ben and his family’s mission “save mom”, Ross triggers a different perceptive and emotional conversation about the ideas of conventional funerals. The panning shot of the church with dim lighting and people wearing black displays the idea that funerals are a time of severe sadness and despair which is what is represented by conventional funerals. The scene follows with Ben and his children storming in. Ross has challenged mainstream funerals by having the family completely disregard the traditional funeral customs of wearing black and instead the family wears bright colorful clothing. Ross upholds Ben’s approach to funerals as Leslie's funeral is portrayed as a celebration of life, and intimate connections are created through music and dancing.

The most prevalent and important segment in the film is the ending scene, which highlights the aspects of the family’s lifestyle and values that need to acquire changed. Ben’s values, approach, and lifestyle are challenged by Ross as several problems arise due to Ben’s constricted lifestyle. Leslie's father refuses to let the children be with him due to the fact that he is training them to steal, the children have bruises all over their bodies and broken limbs. Ben decides to send one of his daughters to use her “training” to climb a roof, consequently, she falls and according to the doctor she was at risk of being paralyzed. Ross begins to challenge Ben’s lifestyle and portrays Ben’s values in a negative manner. Subsequently, Bodevan reveals to Ben all the top colleges he has gotten an acceptance to. Instead of the mainstream approach from parents to congratulate their children, Ben becomes upset and states that “All this time you have been deceiving me?”. As a result of betrayal from his sons who willingly had the desire to leave him for the urban materialistic lifestyle and education system, the camera shows an intimate close-up focusing on Ben dealing with his loss, the destruction of his lifestyle and not having custody over his children. Ben’s controlling behavior is effectively shown, and Ross initiates that change is needed. Ross challenges Ben to recognize how difficult it is to integrate all the elements of his lifestyle under these conditions.

The film shows how diverse Ben’s views are, it rejoices his values and commitments to living a “fantastic” life of honesty, strong values, self-sufficiency, and discipline while questioning his extremity, social isolation, and the extreme dangers that he exposes his children to. Ross presents the positives and negatives of Ben’s lifestyle and those of the mainstream. Ross offers the opportunity to the audience to confront their own justifications. Consequently, the family ends up living in a suburban home and the iconic bus is turned into a shipwrecked chicken coop. The wide scene of the family eating foods consisting of cereal and milk which Ben had once despised as not being “real food” shows that he has successfully learned to morph his values and lifestyle with the those of mainstream. Captain Fantastic emphasizes the message that it’s imperative to remain true to our own values and beliefs, but a degree of compromise aids in opening up to a broader world of experiences.

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Critical Essay about American Life Style. (2023, July 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Critical Essay about American Life Style.” Edubirdie, 20 Jul. 2023,
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