February 24, 2017

"What kind of a crazy person celebrates Noam Chomsky's birthday like it's some kind of official holiday?"



Just one of the many great scenes in "Captain Fantastic," which Meade and I watched on streaming video last night. I give it the Althouse seal of approval. You can stream it here. And let's talk about it!

I enjoyed listening to Tom & Lorenzo talk about that movie in this podcast. Tom was outraged at the Viggo Mortenson character, calling his treatment of his children "child abuse" and said that because the man was inculcating left-wing politics in his children, viewers were not going to be able to detect the badness of his fathering.

That resonates with something I said to Meade immediately after watching the movie (and before listening to Tom & Lorenzo): This movie would be experienced very differently by someone with left-wing politics, someone who actually thought Noam Chomsky was great. Things we found hilarious — and also painful — would read entirely differently. I think this was Tom's problem, but it forced Tom to see that there's something abusive about inculcating children with politics (he just thought the common people needed clearer instruction, which would have been there if the father's politics were right-wing or Christian fundamentalist).

The movie is complicated, hilarious and dramatic. A father is sort of leading his band of 6 children against the world. He's both good and bad. And the grandfather who disapproves — played by Frank Langella — is also good and bad, even though he's in the position that would normally be The Villain. (He's trying to take the children away.) There's a great dinner-table scene where the 6 children try to relate to their cousins, and it's complex to think about. There's some of the feeling Meade and I remember from many movies circa 1970 where the people who reject American society are morally and intellectually better, but that's also challenged as one of the boys yells at his father for making them into "freaks."

And I just want to say: Viggo Mortenson is 58 years old. He looks great. And we got a comprehensive look at him at one point.

73 comments:

Sydney said...

Characters who are both good and bad is what makes a good story. Otherwise they are just stereotypes. Thanks for recommending the movie. Hadn't heard of it. Plan to watch it.

Roughcoat said...

Viggo Mortenson is 58 years old. He looks great.

Well, he is descended from Numenoreans, dontcha know. Long life and vigor, the Gift of the Valar, and all that.

tcrosse said...

At a Teach-In Against the War, many years ago in Madison. The late, great George L. Mosse addressed the crowd. At one point he said, "In the words of Bismarck, whose one hundred fifty-first birthday we celebrate today...." I didn't know Mosse well enough to know how serious he was.

Drago said...

""What kind of a crazy person celebrates Noam Chomsky's birthday like it's some kind of official holiday?""

The question that answers itself.

Michael said...

I'm libertarian-righty, but in a way that included sending my kids to leftish-hippie-ish Waldorf school. And they loved the movie and mocked me for days with comments about celebrating Chomsky's birthday or living on a bus or killing deer as a rite of passage. I thought the movie did a great job of showing that ultimately a child has to find freedom in getting free of even the person who's teaching them to be freethinkers. Because the job of parent is a form of indoctrination, but you hope, if you're good at it and a good person, that it will fail in the end on some levels.

Anyway, I loved all the contradictions in it, treated honestly-- Viggo isn't all right, Langella isn't all wrong, Viggo even knows that his enemy isn't all wrong, when did you last see that in a movie? And I loved that it harkened back to the kind of 70s leftism that was once libertarian and about escaping the reach of a government that wanted to send you to Vietnam. The worst thing that happened to the counterculture was signing up to be the political movement of the Daley machine Democrats behind Obama, Clinton, Rahm, etc. Those guys used to be the Devil, not our leaders.

Bill Harshaw said...

Down with euphemisms: Viggo is buck-naked, as he was in Eastern Promises.

Unknown said...

That's far, far more of Viggo that I want to see.

Why not Liv Tyler in her Arwen mode (without the flowing dress)? That would be easier on the eyes.

--Vance

Freeman Hunt said...

Watched this last week and really liked it. (Though I did laugh that not homeschooling was assumed to be part of his end compromise with society, as though homeschooling were particularly extreme.) There were many fun conversations during it.

"I love this guy."
"He's a self-righteous jerk."
"I know. Stick it to The Man. I can't help but like him. He needs to calm down, but I like him. I would join any homeschool group that guy was in."

I loved the grandfather too. He's The Man, but he's also the "Hey, kids actually need some tenderness and stability in their lives, and if that makes me square, screw you," guy.

We noticed that the traitor (but correct?) and later reconciled kid was consigned to hitting a box during family musical time. Ha ha ha.

Mad Boston Arab said...

Your comment, "I remember from many movies circa 1970s where the people who reject American society are morally and intellectually better" reminds me of this...http://wickeddox.blogspot.com/2007/05/in-land-of-rococo-marxists.html

Luke Lea said...

Chomsky is a riddle in the form of a shaggy dog story.

Freeman Hunt said...

I especially liked it when the grandfather shot the arrow into the door. It's shocking, and you think, "Whoa! That's really dangerous! How sinister!" And then, "Hey, that idiot bought that for his son. Point well made, grandpa."

exiledonmainstreet said...

Do any white leftists have 6 children these days? Pelosi did, but the only time I see people with large families these days is when I make an occasional trek to a traditional Catholic church which offers the Latin Mass. Lots of rug rats there, but I somehow doubt their parents are celebrating Chomsky's birthday.

Most leftists I know think having more than 2 kids is "selfish" and harmful to Gaia.

Freeman Hunt said...

Do any white leftists have 6 children these days?

I know many with three or four.

LarsPorsena said...

Where' our resident Chomskyite, Cookie?

exiledonmainstreet said...

I know many with three or four.

2/24/17, 1:25 PM

I'm really surprised by that.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think it's a good idea when homeschooling to join a variety of homeschool social groups. Nice to try to have a hippie or leftist one, a fundamentalist one, and a mixed one where all kinds of different people get along. You may get kicked out of one of the first two now and then (proving that an organized group cannot be your friend, only individual people can be--a good lesson,) but the mixed one will generally be steady apart from avoidable, regular, mainstream people drama, the level of which will vary by group.

Freeman Hunt said...

"I'm really surprised by that."

Homeschoolers, man.

JohnAnnArbor said...

This comic strip is relevant. Kind of. Well, a bit.

J. Farmer said...

Chomsky himself would not be pleased. He always attempted to discourage the cult of personality that grew up around him.

William said...

Only in the land of unicorns and rainbows, do six children raised in isolation by a bipolar, suicidal mother and a survivalist father turn out to be happy, well adjusted and able, after a hiccup or two, to seamlessly integrate with the outside world. The movie was fraudulent, but convincingly so. That makes it more not less fraudulent.

Freeman Hunt said...

"Only in the land of unicorns and rainbows, do six children raised in isolation by a bipolar, suicidal mother and a survivalist father turn out to be happy, well adjusted and able, after a hiccup or two, to seamlessly integrate with the outside world."

I don't know. Did you ever see the show "Wife Swap" during one of its early seasons? Two families would trade moms, no actual wife swapping. The parents would often be really bizarre or extreme, but the striking thing about the show was that the kids, no matter how strangely they were raised, almost always seemed pretty normal and adaptable.

tim in vermont said...

I would have bought your line of thinking until he brought up Citizens United. From then on it just looked like partisan politics to me. Maybe they took mockery that far, but I doubt it.

And the kids doing string theory? That was funny, but I just don't think Hollywood is self aware enough to have intended it as parody.

Earnest Prole said...

I loved that it harkened back to the kind of 70s leftism that was once libertarian and about escaping the reach of a government that wanted to send you to Vietnam.

Exactly.

tim in vermont said...

The problem is that the left is beyond parody.

tim in vermont said...

Oh yeah, and the little girl puts out the new definition of fascism favored by the American left that neither Hitler nor Mussolini would recognize, but which serves to rhetorically hang their crimes on the modern right.

Ann Althouse said...

"Down with euphemisms: Viggo is buck-naked, as he was in Eastern Promises."

*Adds 'Eastern Promises to Amazon video 'wish list.'*

J. Farmer said...

@Freeman Hunt:

The parents would often be really bizarre or extreme, but the striking thing about the show was that the kids, no matter how strangely they were raised, almost always seemed pretty normal and adaptable.

Absent abuse, severe neglect, or terror in early childhood, children tend to grow up just fine. Providing a fairly predictable, safe home environment is pretty much all kids need to grow up happy and healthy. I think "helicopter patenting" is more about satisfying the neuroses of patents rather than much benefit accruing to the child.

Ann Althouse said...

"Did you ever see the show "Wife Swap" during one of its early seasons? Two families would trade moms, no actual wife swapping. The parents would often be really bizarre or extreme, but the striking thing about the show was that the kids, no matter how strangely they were raised, almost always seemed pretty normal and adaptable."

Yeah, I loved that show. Great for examining the good and that bad of order and freedom.

Nyamujal said...

If anything, with his "We're just as bad as Russia" talk, Donald Trump has convinced the GOP to sound like Noam Chmosky.

Sebastian said...

"Chomsky himself would not be pleased." Then again, Chomsky wouldn't be pleased about much of anything, besides the sound of his own voice.

At least they celebrated Uncle Noam's birthday, not Uncle Joe's.

It's all well and good for the left to celebrate the far left, but from the far left's standpoint the successful progressive march through the institutions looks like a slow crawl. The MSM manufacture consent for the evil capitalists, don't you know, and "liberal" universities are beholden to the corporate agenda, and the transgender thing is a queer distraction, and the anti-Russia saber-rattling is just the liberal establishment doing its imperial thing.

traditionalguy said...

Viggo plays a nice Indiana guy in A History of Violence, who has another talent set from his younger days in Philly. I think he does a butt naked sex scene with his trusting wife in that one. But the movie is very well done, and asks the ultimate question that all men need the answer to.

Robert Cook said...

"I think he does a butt naked sex scene with his trusting wife in that one.

That was Cronenberg's next film: EASTERN PROMISES.

readering said...

Thanks, I'll get the dvd this weekend. Hopefully watch before Sunday night. Had been planning on seeing either LA LA Land or Hidden Figures at the multiplex but this sounds more fun.

William said...

Some kids are preternaturally resilient. Think of Amy Smart. As a general rule,though, there's only so much isolation, neglect, and wrong headedness that a child can absorb. But one thing that kids raised in difficult environments can do is pretend to be lovable and happy. Their lives depend on it.......Eugene O'Neill wrote two plays about growing up. One, "Ah Wilderness" was, as he said, nostalgia for a childhood he never had. The other, Long Day's Journey, was an exposition about what it feels like to grow up among damaged people. One play is true, and the other is full of pleasant lies. As was that movie.

Sam L. said...

"Viggo Mortenson is 58 years old. He looks great. And we got a comprehensive look at him at one point."

Fullllllllllllllllll Frontal, I'd guess.

J. Farmer said...

@Sebastian:

The MSM manufacture consent for the evil capitalists, don't you know, and "liberal" universities are beholden to the corporate agenda, and the transgender thing is a queer distraction, and the anti-Russia saber-rattling is just the liberal establishment doing its imperial thing.

Sounds about right, if a little over the top to me. Which of those do you disagree with?

Roughcoat said...

But the movie is very well done, and asks the ultimate question that all men need the answer to.

Namely: Should I do her on the stairs, or in the bedroom?

Big Mike said...

"Comprehensive" view of Viggo Mortenson? @Meade, you may need to hit the gym a little more.

Meade said...

"Think of Amy Smart."

I think you might mean Elizabeth Smart.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

I have a running joke ~ I spontaneously ovulate whenever I see Viggo Mortensen. He is human perfection. He is the most gorgeous man I have ever laid eyes on except my husband. Did your post carry the 'male beauty' tag? I hope so!

ok off to read the rest of the comments.

Sebastian said...

"Which of those do you disagree with?" Viewing the far-left critique from a certain angle, I almost agree. Ha! We can both be anti-progressive, can't we?

But then I remember that the MSM also manufacture a bunch of other stuff, and that universities are also beholden to other agendas, and that the transgender thing is not just a distraction, though it is that, and that Russia gives us plenty of reason to rattle sabers, and then I remember why I always loathed Chomsky's simplistic dogmatism and certitude. (Not to mention his actual ideological preferences, of course.)

J. Farmer said...

In other words: you don't disagree with any of them. Did you actually read Manufacturing Consent? In my experience, people's vitriol towards Chomsky is usuall inversely related to the amount of his work they've actually read.

BN said...

"In my experience, people's vitriol towards Chomsky is usuall inversely related to the amount of his work they've actually read."

It's on my list right after "Jokes and Their Relations to the Unconscious".

J. Farmer said...

@BN:

It's on my list right after "Jokes and Their Relations to the Unconscious".

Great primer for turn of the century style humor. Of course, nobody has to read Manufacturing Consent. It can get pretty tedious, but I do finding reading a book a useful primer on having an opinion of its contents.

Virgil Hilts said...

I would like to see a biopic about Viggo Mortenson who is one of my favorite actors. Imagine marrying Exene Cervenka and getting to go to X concerts in the 80s and also getting to hang out with Exene's ex from X, John Doe.

BN said...

@JF

"...I do find reading a book a useful primal on having an onion..."

I'm studying reading right now. And writing too.

Any useful suggestions on shit that ain't tedious?

J. Farmer said...

"The Elements of Style" by White and Strunk for classic


"The Sense of Style" by Steven Pinker for noveau

J. Farmer said...

p.s. And for a wild card, Stephen King's "On Writing." Its half-memoir/half-how-to"

buwaya said...

"Tarzan of the Apes" - Edgar Rice Burroughs
For how to make a page-turner.

BN said...

ok, then, I'll give Stephen King's"On Writing for Apes" a try.

thanks, guys!

J. Farmer said...

You are so very welcome.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Haven't seen Captain Fantastic, but from Althouse's description it sounds like a rip off of Paul Theroux's Mosquito Coast (the book, not the movie).

eddie willers said...

You can manufacture discontent too.

Chomsky knows this all too well.

Lewis Wetzel said...

J. Farmer said...
In other words: you don't disagree with any of them. Did you actually read Manufacturing Consent? In my experience, people's vitriol towards Chomsky is usuall inversely related to the amount of his work they've actually read.

His work in linguistics seems to have made it into a discipline where you can talk about problems endlessly without ever solving them or doing much at all that is useful.

Richard Dillman said...

When I was studying linguistics in grad school in the 1970's, I had to read every thing Chomsky had published on the topic. He is still one of the worst academic prose stylists for many reasons. For too many readers, he is unreadable. I think his prose is turgid, redundant, overwritten, and gratuitously complex, particularly in its syntax. Yeah, I know syntactic structures. I thought "Language and Mind" was his most readable book, partly because it was aimed at a general audience. Much of his linguistic theory can actually be condensed into a few shorter volumes. He has dominated linguistics since the late sixties to the detriment of the field. For an interesting satire of Chomsky's influence read Tom Wolfe's latest book, "The Kingdom of Speech" an amusing send up.

Does anyone remember the transformational grammar fad? It was Chomsky's baby.

exiledonmainstreet said...

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...
I have a running joke ~ I spontaneously ovulate whenever I see Viggo Mortensen."

I can't knock your taste in men. Mortensen is damn fine.

But my male beauty ideal is the Mel Gibson of "The Year of Living Dangerously." Always been a sucker for the dark hair/blue eyes combo.

Bay Area Guy said...

Thanks for this recommendation! I will check out the movie.

Not to divulge too much personal info, but my parents were New Yorkers, who were studying Psychology at University of Mich in the early 60s, had me, dropped out, drove a VW Bus to San Francisco in 1969, and basically never left. I grew up in the midst of that hippie-dippie nonsense. My Pop and his Pals dropped acid with Timothy Leary. The verdict of the 60s? It was free-spirited and fun! But there were a lotta casualties........

@Richard Dillman,

Loved that Tom Wolfe book, Kingdom of Speech, which dismembered Chomsky and Darwin, to some extent. Nobody understands the origin of language.

@Female Commentators,

Virgo M made his mark in GI Jane as a tough-ass Navy Seal, trying to teach Demi Moore. Go see it!

Michael said...

Haven't seen Captain Fantastic, but from Althouse's description it sounds like a rip off of Paul Theroux's Mosquito Coast (the book, not the movie).

There are similarities in the main character, but it's not a tragedy.

Michael said...

Any useful suggestions on shit that ain't tedious?

I recommend reading Mencken and Wodehouse (for how to have a musical voice) and Donald Westlake/Richard Stark's Parker novels for how to tell a story in the most stropped-down, lean language imaginable. The Parker books usually begin at a ridiculous clip, like you can see Westlake saying "I DARE you not to keep reading."

There was a great example where someone rewrote the opening of The DaVinci Code in Westlake's style, exposing how flabby Dan Brown's writing was. It was about half as long...

Sebastian said...

"usually inversely related to the amount of his work they've actually read" Goodness, sounds like science. Hate to mess up your curves, but unfortunately I have read (and heard) my share of Chomsky. Used to hang out with lefties, the real kind (not meant as comment on JF, who may be one).

Zach said...

I had a very interesting conversation with my mother after this movie. She had a lot of hippie friends in the '60s who took a similar path, and she had very ambivalent feelings about them. Mortenson was obviously more extreme, but it was similar enough that it really spurred the conversation.

One thing I really liked about the movie is that they made Mortenson so uncompromising. They didn't try to soften him to give him more mainstream appeal -- they even imply that his dead wife was severely bipolar. You would not necessarily be glad to have Mortenson in the family, or in the neighborhood. It made it a much stronger character study, and it even helped his good points to stand out more.

Zach said...

Mortenson and Langella are both very reliable signs that a movie is going to be better than you expect.

Langella in particular has to play someone with enough intrinsic authority that you can believe he would step in and put a stop to things. The movie doesn't work if you don't see his point of view. And if you look at the scenes he was in, they probably only had him for one or two days of shooting.

J. Farmer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. Farmer said...

@Richard Dillman:

Does anyone remember the transformational grammar fad? It was Chomsky's baby.

My knowledge of Chomsky's linguistic theories and subsequent impact on the field are rudimentary at best. I favored my self a libertarian/anarchist in my mid-teens and came into contact with Chomsky's work that way. He is certainly a lion of the intellectual new left movement.

@Sebastian:

Hate to mess up your curves, but unfortunately I have read (and heard) my share of Chomsky. Used to hang out with lefties, the real kind (not meant as comment on JF, who may be one).

His influence is undeniable. Like a lot of great thinkers, Chomsky has said some stuff that is wrong and some stuff that is right. Of course he is a curmudgeon and prone to vast overstatements of certitude. He is a pretty devoted empiricism, and he always rejected the post-modernist/post-structuralist movement as a bunch of meaningless nonsense. I think he refutes Foucault well in their seminal debate, and I always agreed with his assessment of Lacan as most probably a fraud and a charlatan. Chomsky's dismissiveness of the new French intellectuals was always a plus in his favor.

Chomsky is also a useful source for critiquing foreign policy. I think he has a tendency towards overstatement, but he is correct to advocate a basic moral principle of not doing to other people what we would not accept others doing to us. Far too often we are prone to use ideas of patriotism, American exceptionalism, and provenance to justify, directly or through collusion with others, unleashing tremendous violence against innocent populations who have done nothing to threaten the security of the US or any American citizen. People should be outraged by that. Donald Trump once said that bimbos will let powerful men grab them by the pussy, and the whole country lost its shit. Barack Obama blew up a 16-year-old American kid with a missile, not to mention getting hundreds of innocent people killed in his drone campaigns. He's dancing with Ellen and singing karaoke with Jimmy Fallon. Nobody gives a shit that he got hundreds of people killed in a targeted assassination campaign with often dubious targets (never mind the hundreds in "collateral damage"). That should be more of a scandal than it is. That is basically the core of Chomsky's critique, whatever you think of his other politics, and I think it's correct, and I don't think it can be emphasized often enough.

Zach said...

The thing I really like about the Langella character is more about the movie's structure than the character himself (although I always like Langella as an actor).

Structurally, the thing I like is that Langella is a strong character who aggressively challenges Mortenson's romantic ideas about himself. So in order for the movie to have a happy ending, Mortenson has to address that challenge and come to some sort of resolution. So the movie can't just be in love with a leftist radical, it actually has to address the ways in which that radical has to change in order to accommodate the other people in his life.

Now, it's actually very common for movies to question the hero's methods -- think of the Batman movie where Morgan Freeman is aghast at Batman's cellphone surveillance system. But most movies will sabotage the questioner -- the surveillance method is the only way to beat the Joker, and Freeman only destroys it after it's served its purpose. So they're not a challenge to the hero *being* the hero, they're just a speedbump for the hero to overcome in order to show his awesomeness.

Mortenson values his role as a father above almost anything else. So if his kids choose Langella, who stands for everything he hates, he's just a crazy old kook who's not far away from child abuse. Making Langella a strong character heightens the central conflict, which is whether Mortenson should choose to be a radical or a good father.

Dan Truitt said...

I saw this two days ago myself. I hated this piece of crap film- not because the acting was bad- it was great. But it carries on the stereotype in the arts of Christians as intolerant troglodytes and erases the hope that makes us all fully human- the hope that life gets better after this vale of tears, in a place called heaven. Spare me. And that nude scene- totally unnecessary. "Oh look how free I am! I can hang my hog out for my 8 year-old daughter to see, as well as a couple stuffed shirt old farts." Give me a break.

exiledonmainstreet said...

OK I just watched it. I also saw this as a retro film, a very late '60's - early '70's type of film (I was reminded of "Harold and Maude.") As a tail end boomer, I'm just a little too young to clearly remember hippies who really wanted to get back to the earth. I had an older cousin who lived on a commune for a while, but by the time I was in middle school, she had gotten tired of feeding chickens and baking bread and had moved back to the city.

So my experience of leftists is entirely with the urban variety - and none of those people would know how to kill a deer with a knife (they would be horrified by the very thought of it) or use a bow and arrow. That's why I was startled when Freeman said she knows leftists with 4 kids. The leftists I know live more like the suburban cousins who buy their organic chicken from Whole Foods - and those people are considered boring Establishment people by the family in this movie. In reality, I think the people who know how to field dress a deer and could survive in the wilderness for more than a couple of days (I'm not one of them) are not leftists.

In fact I kept thinking that eldest son might get into trouble at Harvard, (not because of his politics - a Maoist? An anti-Christian? He'll fit right in!) if he ends up falling for a PETA member.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Also, what leftist today would have his children reading dead white males like Nabokov and Dostoevsky? No, they'd be studying feminist tomes and queer manifestos, or whatever the hell it is they read these days in college. The kids talked in terms of class, not race - another reason why it's a retro movie.

J2 said...

The movie poster for is pretty much a replication of "The Royal Tennebaums" which has a lot of similar family dysfunction themes.

The movie did recall "The Mosquito Coast". (For me the movie not the book.)

Likewise the clash of civilizations between Glenda Jackson and the family she had to babysit in "Sunday, Bloody Sunday".

I thought Frank Langella looked about as fantastic as Mortensen.

Favorite scene: When he poured wine for all his kids after purging the dinner table of adults.

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.

Fernandinande said...

Dan Truitt said...
But it carries on the stereotype in the arts of Christians as intolerant troglodytes and erases the hope that makes us all fully human- the hope that life gets better after this vale of tears, in a place called heaven.


Fuck you and your childish superstitions, Mr. fully-human troglodyte.

mtrobertslaw said...

It is said that Chomsky never quite recovered from the pummeling he took in a debate with John Silber.

Denever said...

"And that nude scene- totally unnecessary. 'Oh look how free I am! I can hang my hog out for my 8 year-old daughter to see, as well as a couple stuffed shirt old farts.'"

Or ... it showed how passive-aggressive he is. That display was meant to offend, so that he could then sneer at their being startled by his sudden appearance. The movie is dishonest there, I think -- a lot of people who aren't old codgers might have had a moment of "Oh!" followed by "Yeah, whatever ..."

Same thing with the kids showing off their "training" when they aggressively sang the cop off the bus. Their tactic is to be offensive while maintaining deniability (very thin deniability, IMO): "Gee, all we were doing was quoting the Bible and singing hymns" -- yes, in a way that was threatening and disorienting, as they surrounded the cop and got louder and louder. That showed the hypocrisy of Mr. Make an Argument and showed his contempt for everyone but himself and his kids. Christians, cops, The Man -- not worth even entering into a discussion with.

Ditto the scene in the restaurant, where he says, "We don't make fun of people." No, you hold them in complete and utter contempt, and then you fool yourself into thinking you're a good person simply because you don't openly ridicule them.