February 25, 2017

Commenter — without realizing it — takes my side in what has been a 2-day debate between me and Meade.

In the comments to yesterday's post about "Captain Fantastic," robother said:
I read the end of the movie as pure fantasy in his head after leaving Albuquerque. If not, The Man is far more benign and forgiving than Chomsky, Mortenson's character or even I imagine.
Thank you! And spoiler alert for those who haven't seen the movie. (You can stream it from Amazon, here. Please do that first, then join this discussion.)
That was my morning-after theory about what happened. The father drove away alone and remained alone. He accepted the grandfather's benevolent takeover of the family, because the injury to the daughter had shown that what the father had been doing endangered them and because they had grown to the point where they needed to learn how to live in society and they had used their intellectual powers — which they'd learned from him — to make that clear. He drove off into the sunset, and that could have been the end of the movie, as it is the end of so many westerns. But there was a long epilogue, an alternative ending, essentially his fantasy (perhaps a gentle dream or perhaps a psychotic break).

We now get a sequence of scenes, leaping from one to the next, like in a dream.

1. The children emerge from under the floorboards of the bus. Evidence that this is fantasy: How could 6 kids have fit in that compartment and kept quiet enough not to be noticed? How could they fit in that space (which we saw earlier in the movie as the place where they kept the Noam Chomsky poster)? How could they look fresh and unrumpled after they climbed out of that dark, tight space? Why didn't the grandfather — who seemed chummy with the police and intent on getting his way — not get after the father who was driving in a very conspicuous vehicle (a painted schoolbus)?

2. After the children confront him with their need for a mission, we see them in the graveyard digging up the mother's body. Evidence that this is fantasy: Earlier the children had convinced him not to go to the burial ceremony, which he had wanted to disrupt. That was his wish, his wish to fulfill her wish. Suddenly, the children are all in. How could the flashlight-waving group escape detection in a cemetery for the time it would take to dig up the body? Why was the headstone already etched and in place? Why was there no concrete slab blocking access to the casket?

3. We're back on the bus, there's unworldly lighting and music, and we see the children around the opened casket communing with the still-beautiful corpse. They have beatific smiles as they're transported by the beauty of her death.  Unlike in earlier scenes, no child takes a dissident view. It's all very weird and all strangely perfect.

4. Suddenly, we're in a beautiful outdoor space on the edge of a cliff — where?! — and the enshrouded body is atop a funeral pyre. The wish is fulfilled, the body is disposed of by burning, and there's thrilling, charming singing and dancing. Clues: Too pretty, too perfect, too over-the-top, too wish-fulfulling. All are forgiven. All are happy.

5. We're in the San Francisco airport, seeing off the ashes, into a toilet (as the mother had requested), and seeing off the oldest boy — except he's not going to college (as was his plan all along thus far), he says he's going to Namibia (which is entirely random and therefore more likely to be a figment of his father's mind (the father had never liked the idea of his going to college)).

6. And lastly, we see the family resettled in some kind of beautiful compromise. The bus has been repurposed into a chicken coop, and the children are gathering eggs and the father is preparing bag lunches: They go to real school now. There's a real house for them to live in. It's perfectly wholesome. And the movie ends with them not scrambling to get to the school bus they're told is coming. They settle in for what looks like the eternal breakfast. All are quiet. The children are reading. The most rebellious son pours cereal for his father — a sign that the younger generation is now self-sufficient — and the father's face goes through 10 different expressions as he seems to be involved in an elaborate mental exercise of absorbing what is happening. A telling, precise detail is that he's drinking yerba mate....



It took me a long time to absorb that detail, because you know how I feel about a man drinking from a straw, but Meade dragged me out of that. I thought it looked like some child's drink and had a theory about the generational change that went with the son serving the cereal and the resolution of the problems understood as a realistic story. But when I finally accepted that the drink was obviously yerba mate, I became even more absorbed with the reading of the ending as a fantasy.

I won't elaborate on the part of our discussion that was about how a fictional movie is always entirely a fantasy and so it is fruitless to try to decide whether the ending was real or fantasy. Is there some interpretation that is what you're supposed to think and if so is there any reason to work at getting to the intended theory?

27 comments:

Laslo Spatula said...

I approach every film with the mindset that everything after the Title Credits is a Dream Sequence.

Most films make more sense that way.

I am Laslo.

Meade said...

"Most films make more sense that way."

Exactly. A wavy dissolve immediately after the title credits helps but if it's missing, I just assume the filmmaker forgot.

exiledonmainstreet said...

"How could the flashlight-waving group escape detection in a cemetery for the time it would take to dig up the body? Why was the headstone already etched and in place? Why was there no concrete slab blocking access to the casket?"

Also, it didn't look like they buried the casket very deeply. She wasn't 6 ft. under. In reality, I think it would be pretty difficult to hoist a casket out of a grave.

I didn't catch the Nambia part. I mistakenly thought the eldest son was going off to college.

Of course, if the children all stayed with their grandparents, it's easy to imagine grandpa and grandma staring miserably at each other over the breakfast table as the kids lecture them on the vulgarity of their wealth, the inequities of capitalism, the additives in the cereal, the dumbness and shallowness of the kids at school, the stupidity of not letting children drink wine etc.etc. A sequel might end with grandpa hauling the kids back to the Pacific Northwest to return them to dad.



Meade said...

Same thing with memoirs. If the author wants to put it in the title — e.g., Dreams From My Father — fine but I don't need for it to be there to know I'm about to be told a more or less entertaining though perhaps beautiful lie.

Rusty said...

"Captain Fantastic"
The title tells you that what follows is not anchored in reality.
Like the "Sixth Sense"
How long did it take for you to realize that Bruce Willis' charachter was a ghost?

Pete said...

So after reading this post and these comments, I've concluded Captain Fantastic isn't a movie I want to see.

Althouse has a blind spot when it comes to movies and literature. You can't trust her judgement on these things.

robother said...

Without getting too Lit Crit, I suppose you could square the views by seeing the end fantasy sequence as commenting on the father's using his wife and family to instantiate his fantasy of a perfect self-sufficient secular paradise. We come to see that even earlier sequences in the movie are his unreliable narrative. (The cliff climbing scene, e.g., seems absurdly exaggerated.)

Maybe the only "real" things in the movie are his wife's absence, suicide and funeral and his daughter's near death, the only events powerful enough to break through his otherwise solid fantasy.

Laslo Spatula said...

Derek Vale, Reviewer of Films He Hasn't Seen...

"Captain Fantastic" is a movie that laves the viewer much to think about, or so I have heard from viewers. The movie concerns an over-protective father who may be an aging hippie, I'm not quite clear on that part, but that is certainly the vibe I get...

It appears his children are coming to terms with the death of their mother: I have read something to that effect somewhere, and it seems like that would effectively provide the film with the emotional gravity it so clearly possesses...

An actor I recognize from somewhere plays the hippie's father, so there is obviously a generational conflict involved that probably resolves in a muted sense of understanding amongst the men: if this isn't the case, then this may not be the picture I thought it was when I didn't see it...

From the clip I saw on Youtube, Viggo Mortenson puts in an amazing performance as the aging hippie. Of course, I would expect nothing less: Mr. Mortenson has given masterful performances in many films I haven't seen, and this one in particular seems Oscar-Worthy.

Speaking of Mr. Mortenson, I have not heard mention of nude scenes on any of the gay blogs I read, so it would appear there is no naked wrestling for the actor, like he did in that other movie I didn't see...

I picture the cinematography in this film as spectacular in that hazy Sixties way, because of the subject matter, mostly. And from the movie poster it appears the wardrobe is wonderfully eccentric, like it is in all those Wes Anderson films I haven't seen...

Speaking of Wes Anderson, I can't wait to not see his next film, sure to be full of his dry humor and visual whimsy. I DID see "Rushmore", so I think it's probably still goint to be a lot like that one...

I am Laslo.

Clayton Hennesey said...

Know what I glommed onto immediately? That this was a movie.

One, for example, with all the most scenic elements of the Northwest in but a few square miles, like Middle Earth, including breathtaking cliffs for children to climb. One with a scene of a young man so smitten after his first kiss that Shakespeare had to invent the phrase "saw the air" to describe it.

In a word, it was all a fantasy. One not nominated for Best Picture for reasons enbedded from beginning to end. But a great one to watch, nevertheless.

Denever said...

Someone commenting at a site for discussions about movies (filling the gap left by the IMDb's shutdown of its message boards) claimed to have seen or read an interview with Mortensen in which he said his character committed suicide after he left the kids with the grandfather. No link was given, so that may or may not be true.

Crazy Jane said...

It's a fantasy story, not something to be taken too seriously. http://bit.ly/2mijh3f

Laslo Spatula said...

Derek Vale, Reviewer of Films He Hasn't Seen...

It's that time of the year agin, my friends -- the Oscars! I can't help but feel the excitement, even though I haven't seen any of the films in contention. That said, here is my rundown of the Best Picture category, by looking at their posters...

"The Arrival." Space Aliens arrive on earth in a giant ship that looks like a potato bug. Since there are no reds and oranges used in the poster it is NOT a man vs. alien battle, so inevitably it is thought-provoking as it delves into man's existential existence in the universe. And speaking of 'existential', t stars Amy Adams, who is ALWAYS adorable...!

"La La Land". The two lead characters are dancing against a backdrop reminiscent of an idealized Forties musical: I can almost HEAR the soundtrack! And when I think of that soundtrack I haven't heard, and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, I figure it doesn't involve much Rap, otherwise there would be a black name in the credits....

"Fences." Speaking of Black Names! Denzel Washington AND Viola Davis! And from the poster they look like authentic poor old black folk, with a strong sense of decency and wisdom. I would expect nothing less from Denzel, unless he held a gun in the poster. And it had res and oranges...

"Hell or High Water." The poster image evokes dusty prairie, and the close-up of Jeff Bridges makes him seem dusty, too. Obviously a film that captures the modern West. Or South. Or maybe South Mid-West...

"Lion". There are photos of two stars in profile that I don't recognize, a sign that the film suffers from miscasting. There is also a photo of an adult and child walking hand-in-hand on an old railroad tracks, so there is probably something about the passage of time; with actors I recognize I might actually care to know more, if not actually see it...

"Manchester By The Sea." A young couple at the water's edge, with blurry seagulls around them. Again: I don't recognize the actors, but I think they are British in this one, so they are no doubt playing people with a bleak future ahead of them, in that bleak British film way...

"Hacksaw Ridge." A war film with a soldier dramatically carrying a wounded soldier on his back. The soldier has VERY white teeth in the otherwise grimy poster, so I don't know what to think -- his uniform doesn't LOOK like that of. Nazi. Nazis in movies usually have good teeth, unless they are portrayed by British actors...

"Fences" Three black women dressed in sixties-era clothing stride across a NASA logo, and there is a rocket blasting off in the back; maybe they are maids for astronauts' families or something. This film feels uplifting, because rockets, and empowering, because black women. This might give Denzel and Viola some competition for the gold statue...!

"Moonlight" A close-up of a young dark-skinned black man in solemn lighting, with a slash of purple-red separating his face into three pieces. Upon closer look, however, it seems these are three different actors, although they are all black and it may just be two actors with one being shown twice, it's hard to tell. It is also hard to tell what this movie might be about, but I bet it involves Emotional Struggle....

As for who will win? I would normally give it to a gritty Denzel and Viola, but I think the uplifting three black maids may siphon off some of their votes. But this year there are THREE black movies, so that leaves the emotionally riveting tour-de-force "Moonlight" to take home the prize it so richly deserves...

I am Laslo.

Luke Lea said...

Yerba Mate? i thought it was a Coke.

Ann Althouse said...

"How long did it take for you to realize that Bruce Willis' charachter was a ghost?"

It was my assumption all along that he was a ghost, so, since I knew there was some big surprising secret, I kept trying to figure out something ELSE that was true.

J2 said...

Derek Vale

You should host the Oscars.
Many literal actual LOLs.
Brilliant. Thank you.

Ann Althouse said...

"Speaking of Wes Anderson, I can't wait to not see his next film, sure to be full of his dry humor and visual whimsy. I DID see "Rushmore", so I think it's probably still goint to be a lot like that one..."

I have never been able to watch "Rushmore." I have tried several times, but I always pause early on and then I never go back. I was setting the DVR to record some movies I might watch, saw "Rushmore" on the schedule and didn't even set it to record, because based on past experience, I can't get into it.

I love "The Royal Tennebaums" and enjoyed that "Hotel..." whatever it was. And "Moonrise..." whatever.

Ann Althouse said...

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Moonrise Kingdom." Those were excellent.

Also saw "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." Fine.

Tried to watch "Bottle Rocket" when that was the only Wes Anderson movie and considered it one of the worst movies I'd ever tried to watch. Can't remember why.

Ann Althouse said...

"Derek Vale, Reviewer of Films He Hasn't Seen...:

Ha ha.

This reminds me of something I was trying to say to Meade earlier today when it didn't fit in edgewise.

I'd like to write a blog based on misreading things. Movies, TV, the news, art, things other people do... just flat out getting everything wrong... but in ways that were very entertaining to read. I can think of about 10 ways to misunderstand things that would be cool (at least to me).

J2 said...

I think that's what Jiminy Glick does.

William said...

"Child 44" starring Tom Hardy is playing on HBO. I can't entirely recommend the movie, but it has several powerful scenes that fit in with this topic. Hardy is a member of the Soviet secret police. He woos and wins Noomi Replace. He thinks he's involved in a grand love affair with her. Later in the movie she disabuses him of that notion. A young woman who cares about herself and her family doesn't get on the wrong side of the Soviet secret police. She never really had the chance to say no, and her family never had the chance to be anything but welcoming and accepting......Perhaps quite a bit of the Captain Fantastic movie and not just the Viking funeral pyre is nothing but idyllic lies that the father tells himself.

robother said...

@ William: "Perhaps quite a bit of the Captain Fantastic movie and not just the Viking funeral pyre is nothing but idyllic lies that the father tells himself."

But not the size of his penis. Even an otherwise unreliable narrator would never misrepresent that.

Anga2010 said...

Misreading things:
The people in my office have been attempting to sign me on to celebrating Benedict Arbor's birthday by planting trees.
I told them that I want nothing to do with that vile and traitorous wretch nor any of his nefarious schemes.

SukieTawdry said...

Of course it's a fantasy. The "Jesse Jackson '88" tee shirt says it all.

SukieTawdry said...

Oh, and why would anyone debate this movie for two days?

Rusty said...

"Maybe the only "real" things in the movie are his wife's absence, suicide and funeral and his daughter's near death, the only events powerful enough to break through his otherwise solid fantasy."

That was my take. This is how he deals with his grief and his guilt.

robother said...

"This is how he deals with his grief and his guilt."

But also how he deals with day to day life. The idyllic outdoorsy/ home schooled kids, the fulfillment of every Boomer parent's dream. I remembered how every accomplishment of my two children, and then my grandchildren, could serve as the basis for a fantasy about what masters of their universe they would become.

One Eye said...

Watched last night. Could be he was the one who was bipolar, and slit his wrists at the beginning of the movie. The rest is his fantasy as he bleeds out, his ego constructing an alternative for why their off the grid fantasy went so wrong.