Release date:July 8, 2016
Starring:Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell , Ann Dowd, Erin Moriarty, Missi Pyle, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn
The film starts strong and finishes the same way. From the opening scenes to the very last one, this film has something to say! During the course of this film we are shown an amazingly cohesive unit. We are introduced to a father solely dedicated to the nurturing of his family. In fact, in the very beginning of this film we see something that I believe is definitely lacking in our modern society; The Rite of Passage. We see the family out for the hunt come out looking for food for the evening meal. It is the son, however, who makes the kill, and we are voyuered into this moment of the father honoring the son and welcoming him into manhood.
Ben, played by Viggo Mortenson, it’s shown to be a very loving and devoted father/husband throughout this movie, giving instruction a well as cultivating strong minds and strong bodies. He achieves by living almost completely off the grid. They light their world with fire, they feed their minds with books, they strengthen their bodies with exercise and feed their character by responsibility and accountability.
Now before you think this is some story about Utopia, let me dispel that right now. One of the foundations of this story is that Ben’s wife revealed, early on, to be quite ill, and is in the city receiving treatments for her ailment which is an ongoing challenge for everything in this family.
In the beginning it is not revealed what the story is with the wife, but it doesn’t take very long for it to be shown forth. There’s a good amount of time spent in developing how much Ben loves his wife. Even to the point of fighting/arguing with his father-in-law over certain particulars. There’s a lot of development in the beginning of the film, which I appreciated. Different personalities different strengths different weaknesses are all shown in each of the children as well as Ben. Rather early in the film it is revealed that Ben’s wife dies. Ben now has the daunting task informing his children about her death. The beauty of this scene is that he allows them to freely express themselves, to express their grief. Some huddle together, others express their grief by being alone, and still others lash out violently, but the fantastic thing about this is that he allows them that moment, that very necessary moment.
We see early on that there is no great love from his father in law, as his father in law blames Ben for all the tribulations that his daughter had gone through. Ben, however, is quick to point out that ALL of the decisions they made were made together. She wanted to be with him, she wanted to live off the grid, she also wanted to raise their family away from rotten schools, cheap capitalism, and wanted to try to make it so that they would actually learn something.
Ben gets forbidden from attending his wife’s funeral by his father-in-law, and even though he is very upset over this mandate, initially opting not to attend, he decides, with some coercion from his children, to go ahead and attend anyway. Now this is where the real fun begins!
They come down off of their mountain fortress and descend into “the pit”, or civilization, if you will. Here the children are introduced to things like shopping malls, restaurant food and rampant materialism. This situation brings about its own set of troubles in that the children have never been exposed to this kind of environment and so it raises questions, desires, things of that nature which Ben has to address. This is awkward for him because it’s brand-new for his children, and even though he had some experience with this it’s been a very long time since he’s had to deal with it. The situation is handled…awkwardly, but not terribly.
In that same humor vein they make a stop at his sister’s house where she attempts to make the point that his children need more structure and that they need to be in school and things of that nature. There’s also a dramatic contrast between the brutal honesty of Ben with his family and the euphemistic way that his sister explains things to her children. The humor comes into play when the sister’s explaining how going to public school is so fantastic and then Ben calls her children down from upstairs and ask them about the Bill of Rights. Her children bumble through a ridiculous attempt at explaining what they think it is, by saying something along the lines of “isn’t that the bill that gives you the right to buy stuff?”, while his own eight-year-old is not only to recite the Bill of Rights, but is also able to explain it in her own words, which of course puts his sister’s children and herself to shame. I think I especially like this scene because it was a testimony of how things are in many public schools today. There’s a level of apathy towards history and general education which I believe will hurt our future if it does not change.
Anyway, back to the movie. Eventually they arrive at the funeral and this is where things get very interesting. The family arrives, in what could be considered, by some, to be rather garish clothing. There are many bright colors and clothes that are from an entirely different era. Around them, of course, we see the traditional garb of a funeral and so naturally they stand out. It is in scenes like this where we see Frank Langella, who plays the father in law Jack, bring some amazing and subtle weight to this character. In later scenes we see more of the root of Jack’s frustration, and why he blames Ben for his daughter’s death. Ben, however, makes it abundantly clearto him, yet again, that he and his wife made all of their decisions together. It is in this chapter of the scenes that follow where we see a new element get brought to light and that is that Jack wants to take the children from Ben. For Ben this is a thermonuclear Shockwave that nearly cracks his foundation. Naturally, he fights for his family, but this is one of the heavier parts of the movie. There’s a lot of desperation shown forth on the part of Ben and that has its own consequences. It is in the scenes after this where Ben has to make sure the most difficult choices of his life and that makes this section of the film challenging to watch, being a father myself.
In the end, however, we see the family bond together through this, and the end has very nice element of closure. Overall I would highly recommend this movie! It is filled with laughter, challenges, and real life family situations.