Captain Fantastic; The Review I Want to Read

As seems to be the norm, I’m late to the game… but better to show up late than not at all. Right?  This post is a review piece on the 2016 movie Captain Fantastic staring Viggo Mortensen.  Quite frankly, the reason I’m writing this review here and now in 2019 is that I keep reading reviews of this movie and haven’t ever found the one I’m looking for… I guess that means that like everyone else, I’m looking for something that aligns with my subjective take on the thing.  Having not found one in 3 years that I agree with (in total), and after much sighing in frustration, I decided to write my own.

Well, it’s not really that I just want to write my own, it’s that almost every Christian review I’ve read about this movie is embarrassing to me as a Christian, and I’m going to focus a lot on the religious (or anti-religious) bits of the movie.  So, let’s get a few things out of the way; this movie features cussing, anti-religious sentiment, and last but(t) not least, full-frontal male nudity.  Yes, indeed, if you want Viggo in all his glory, this is the movie for you.  I happen to love this movie, but that is in spite of, not because of, Viggo’s glory.  Please, if nudity offends you, I totally understand, don’t watch the movie.  If someone using the Lord’s name as a (or in the midst of a) curse word, is a deal breaker, avoid it.  I really do understand completely.  (One point I never see mentioned when people are going off about said nudity is that there is zero, 0, female nudity in this movie, and the nudity is not sexual in any way… I think that is on purpose and makes me like the movie more, because I truly think the writer/director Matt Ross did it to make a point.)

Anywho, enough about the nudity.  This review and discussion contains spoilers, and yes, the movie is 3 years old, but on the ‘net there is always that one person who screams bloody murder at the fact there wasn’t a spoiler warning even though it’s old news.  What we have with Captain Fantastic is a story about parenting (specifically fatherhood), and the attempt to be present in your offspring’s lives to a greater degree than anyone else is; to raise your kids as you see fit.  Matt Ross then adds the layer of; what if those parents have an ideology that does not line up with the majority population?  Most reviews miss this basic point.  Many believe this movie exists to bash a certain political or religious perspective, and they contend the vehicle for this is how we are supposed to feel about Ben (played by Viggo) who is the patriarch of his family.  I don’t know what movie they were watching but the father is not portrayed as a hero… all I can come up with is people were 1) not paying attention while watching and 2) were so offended by what they perceived to be the point early on, that they missed the point entirely.

The family; Ben Cash the Dad, Leslie the Mom, oldest brother Bodevan, twin girls Kielyr & Vespyr, Rellian the rebellious brother, Zaja the death obsessed sister, and the “baby” of the family, little brother Nai.  Mom and Dad are out of the norm and hard to quantify specifically, but what I instantly noticed that never really gets mentioned is that Ben wears a Mjolnir pendant.  Now, we are told flat out that Leslie, his wife, is an Buddhist in regards to philosophy not religion, but we are never told what Ben is, other than he isn’t Christian.  Their main beef seems to be against organized religion, which may be a reaction against Leslie’s upbringing that sharp-eyed viewers will find to be Catholic.  Many wear Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer) as a sign of protection, or as a nod to heritage, there are even Neo-Nazi’s who have latched on to it as a symbol.  Some wear it to simply show they aren’t Christian, but Ben’s use of it is interesting because who exactly is he wearing it for?  They see almost nobody, but even in the deep woods, or when showering in a waterfall, he keeps it on and no one (in the movie or in the reviews) really seems to notice. (Interesting side note; Viggo, as himself, has been photographed wearing one as well.)  Further, if I may jump to the end of the movie, in the final scene we clearly see he is not wearing it anymore, which is a really important clue that he has indeed changed his ways.

The whole family lives out in the Pacific northwest on a kind of homestead; tiny house with teepee, garden, treehouse, etc… They hunt and grow and can their own food.  The kids are homeschooled, which includes hand-to-hand fighting, meditation, wilderness survival training, lots of phys ed, field trips, music education, and a handpicked reading itinerary complete with tests and debates.  They all dress (or undress) however they feel like.  Mom is conspicuously absent and we soon learn why; she’s been admitted to a hospital because of her bipolar disorder which has finally forced her families to try to get her intensive help.  She slits her own wrists one night and we get the feeling she’s threatened to do this many times before, but this time succeeds and kills herself.  This sets the stage for the rest of the movie.

Now, here are some points that many don’t seem to catch.  When Ben finds out she’s dead, he looks through their important papers and opens her will.  We see (and hear) that Ben himself is shocked at her requests (we are kept in the dark about the particulars at first), just as earlier in the movie we see he is shocked at little Zaja’s death obsession that revolves around taxidermy, altars made of animal skulls, and Pol Pot.  Again, dad is not fully in control here and we are allowed to see that, nor is he immune to the norms and mores of the wider culture.

Leslie was being treated close to her mom and dad, who are rich, powerful, and used to getting their way.  Because of the Cash family’s “wild” ways they do not want Ben interfering with Leslie’s funeral and burial and warns Ben to stay away, which of course he doesn’t.  Now, here is where I wish more Christians would express their outrage along with Ben.  Leslie’s mom and dad, who are Catholics, completely and totally ignore their daughter’s wishes and will.  Leslie was a Buddhist who wanted to be cremated, not embalmed and buried.  She wanted music and dancing; a celebration of her life.   And, yes, she wanted her ashes flushed down a toilet. Hey, I don’t agree that’s how human remains should be handled, but that is what she wanted and had listed in her will.  Other reviewers focus on Ben (and fam’s) “bad” behavior in the church during her funeral… bad behavior? Reading her will, dressing out of the norm, and trying to stop the proceedings is not the bad behavior.  The bad behavior is on the part of the mom and dad who did not respect their daughter’s last wishes, who had her embalmed, placed in a Catholic Church, all laid out in a massive coffin, and then buried under a Christian tombstone.  None of that is acceptable from a Christian perspective and is meaningless to put a non-Christian through it.

Other worthy mentions; reviewers target a conversation that takes place in a bank.  The kids are shocked when they see everyone is so overweight.  They haven’t been exposed to that before, and they wonder if everyone is sick.  Nai thinks everyone looks like hippos and says so.  His sisters remind him that isn’t proper, “We don’t make fun of people.”  Vespyr helpfully chirps, “except Christians!”  What most Christian reviewers miss is the look of exasperation on Ben’s face right after his daughter says this.  He knows he’s caught in the very same hypocrisy that he claims infects Christianity.  Does he correct this? No, but the look says it all and we are supposed to catch it as the viewers.

In another scene, Ben is rightfully pulled over for a non-functioning left taillight.  The police officer boards “Steve” (their modified school bus) and begins poking around because the kids are not in school and the situation appears unusual.  Bodevan gets the idea to run the officer off by proselytizing like a stereotypical evangelical Christian homeschooled family, and they all begin serenading the officer with “One Day When Heaven was Filled with His Praises” and the officer beats a hasty retreat, sending them on their way.  Somehow this offends Christians too… but this Christian has heard the jokes my brothers and sisters tell each other; “When you get a call from either a salesperson, or a fake phishing call, just start telling them about Jesus and they’ll hang up really quick! Hahaha.”  We know how proselytizing can come off, and some have weaponized it, and now we’re going to act ticked off because it’s used in a similar fashion, but by a non-believer? Nah, it’s funny, lighten up.

Let me flip it for a second and also clarify a point that confuses some reviewers.  Ben and fam don’t celebrate Christmas, even the secularized version.  This is one of the areas of the film that I’m really surprised they didn’t tweak.  Instead of any holiday like Christmas, the Cash family celebrates Noam Chomsky day… and they celebrate it early on their adventure, just like Christmas in July.  Rellian, the family rebel, thinks it’s stupid, and asks why they can’t just celebrate Christmas like everyone else.  Ben then weaponizes his own philosophy against his son; he essentially humiliates Rellian by demanding an answer to the following question. “You would prefer to celebrate a magical fictitious elf, instead of a living humanitarian who’s done so much to promote human rights and understanding?”  I’ve seen Christian reviewers get really bent out of shape here… because they think he’s referencing Christ.  No. He’s referencing Santa Claus of course.  (Personally I think this is a misstep in writing Ben’s character, but it may have been deliberate to sidestep actually bashing Christian beliefs.  Why would Ben have focused on attacking something we all know isn’t true vs. attacking the idea of Jesus Himself?  It doesn’t fit the character, IMO.)  But that’s beside the point, the point is, this is not an attack on Christ.

And finally the point of the movie itself; the dad was wrong.  Not only was the dad wrong, he figures that out, and tells the kids (and us) just how wrong he has been (this is after what I see to be the climax of the movie when his daughter Vespyr falls from her grandparents’ rooftop and about dies).  Now, if the point of the movie was to glorify Marxism, and anti-Christian sentiment, why would the dad admit his experiment was “a beautiful mistake?”  Why would he then change course, move his kids back to a farm and enroll them in public school, and remove his Mjolnir pendant for the first time in the whole movie? It’s clear as day that he is still a loving, devoted father, he’s just realized there is more than one way to show that and to guide and protect his kids.  We can also see that the family does not throw out their former lives or learning, but things are repurposed and balanced out.  The point is; if you make your kids into philosopher kings and they have no society to interact with, then what’s the point?  If you get your kids seriously injured or killed in raising them up, then what’s the point?  Ben has finally learned you have to walk the path between order and chaos in a balanced manner.

All of that to say; I loved the movie.  It’s one that should make you think, but if you go into it with a chip on your shoulder about what you initially perceive as “anti” this and that, then you’ll miss the lessons Ben learns along the way.  Movies like this should especially challenge us Christians and make us reflect on if there is any truth to the stereotypes against us, and if they are something we want to change or not.  It should also make everyone, Christian and non, realize the importance of educating ourselves and raising the bar when it comes to interpersonal discussions, and parenting.  Finally, it also calls our society into question; what we spend time, effort, and money on, and if those things are actually meaningful (or inline with the Christian ideal anymore).

I plan to post at least one more article on particular aspects of the movie that I found so interesting, I hope, dear reader, that perhaps they will be interesting to you as well…

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UMC During A Time of Winnowing

One of the most divisive topics is now “threatening” to divide the United Methodist Church.  You can read about it here if you haven’t been following along; United Methodists Edge Toward Breakup Over LGBT Policies.  I don’t understand the “edging” bit, as the Methodists as a whole already discussed this and voted on it at their conference back in February.  The vote was clear; the traditional stance on marriage stands.

I get that if this continues to stand that the UMC is going to lose a lot of congregations and individuals, but why would the UMC be forced to split?  It’s been voted on; here are the beliefs of the UMC.  That means if you disagree with that, and are not going to follow the guidelines, then why are you clinging to the title of Methodist?  I would like to think it is out of some type of moral hesitancy to further split the body of Christ, but I’m not that naive.  What do I think is going on?  It’s one more way to tear down the Church from the inside out, it’s a way to take the UMC and publicly force it to bow to progressive ideals that do not accept the New Testament God-given and traditional Christian definition of marriage.

Make no mistake, this is a “Winnowing Topic;” it does separate the wheat from the chaff.  As you winnow, the wind carries away the chaff as it is not built to withstand the wind, rather it is driven before it.  The question of Homosexual marriage is one that cannot be skirted.  And, to be clear, I’m talking about God ordained marriage, not state ordained.  Just as we don’t rely on the state to baptize, nor to tell us who is baptized, believers should not, cannot, rely on the state to tell us who is or is not married.  This is why it seems traditional Christians are always harping on homosexuality; it’s not something that can be danced around.  It’s too much of a prevalent topic in society that those who deny that two men or two women can be married in the eyes of God stand out like a sore thumb.

Progressives can’t tolerate dissent, and anyone who does not agree must be taught a lesson.  That’s why I think there is so much “angst” over trying not to leave the UMC intact.  If it’s left intact, and it’s the progressive liberals that must leave, that is an admission of defeat of the ideal, and that is the unforgivable sin in progressivism.  The traditional Methodist are clear; they love and welcome anyone into congregations, and to some extent even the pulpit, but they are commanded by God not to love or approve of certain actions; hence, it is the actions that are not welcome and need to change.  One of the premises of Methodist belief is that we do have free will in that with the help of God we can choose our actions.  The liberal progressives within the UMC want to change the unchangeable.

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He is Risen!

In historical fact and in truth, He is Risen, He is Alive!  God bless all my brothers and sisters in Him on this Easter…

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First the Cross

It’s Good Friday.  There are a lot of thoughts out there on what Good Friday means to us, so I thought I would add mine.  Here are some of my takeaways as to how to apply the lessons of Good Friday to our lives.

Even though you know what’s coming, keep pushing forward.  Avoidance only works in our lives in the short term.  If there is a rough road ahead we sometimes try to skirt around it, and then wind up in a ditch.  We need to logically look at the facts around us, pray to God that His will be done, and then move forward.  Sometimes life flat out stinks… if you see someone preaching that life is roses and kittens 24/7, run the other way.  We, as Christians, are to be made over into “little Christs,” well, that means sometimes first the cross.

Even though you are anxious, keep pushing forward.  Read the scriptures about Jesus in the garden.  Courage isn’t about a lack of anxiety, it is about having anxiety and acting anyway.  Humans get anxious when confronted with hard things.  That’s ok.  Seek out people that can help you with the burden of anxiety, seek out the Father that is always there, always listening to our fears and desires.  And, if you are anxious about everything, it’s time to get some help with that, and I’m saying that sincerely.  Anxiety can turn into a beast that we start to feel we can’t control, and there’s lots of reasons that anxiety can take over, but it can be fought and put back into perspective.  For rational anxiety; things work out, but first the cross.

Even though you are going through excruciating times, you can be right in the middle of God’s will.  Isn’t that one of the ultimate messages?  Don’t let other Christians shame you into thinking that we only suffer if we sin… did not Jesus suffer?  Was not Jesus sinless?  It rains on the just and the unjust alike, and the sun shines on both.  I would love to say that if you convert to Christianity that you won’t suffer… I can’t say that, it would be a lie, but what I can say is that as Christians, suffering has meaning.  Suffering also has an end.  We aren’t to seek suffering out in some masochistic manner, but when it comes to us, we hit our knees, seek His will, and remember His cross.  The resurrection is coming, but first the cross.

Hang in there my fellow humans, it doesn’t end at the cross.

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Seeking the Divine in Architecture

I’ve hunted down and read people’s comments on a lot of different sites about the Notre Dame fire and its restoration.  Most of it is supportive, but there are a few fellow Christians (and others of course) out there hung up on the money it will take to restore Notre Dame, and the fact that “it’s just a building.”  I do my best to empathize with my fellow human beings, especially when there is a dearth of that on the interweb, so I do get the point they are making, but they are missing The Point of structures like Notre Dame.

Yes, it will take loads of cash to rebuild the Lady, yes, that cash could go elsewhere (I suggest putting your cash wherever you like if it bothers you so much, and make sure you are eating beans and rice, and not anything more expensive so you can give even more money to your causes), but do you seriously think that a structure is all that the money is going toward?  What good are buildings anyway?  Does God disapprove of buildings? Of beauty? Of Architecture?

We already know from Art Appreciation 101 that the human eye, hence the human mind finds certain ratios, and shapes pleasing.  It evokes something in us at a level that we are hardly aware of.  There are many articles out now about the impact of architecture on the human brain, even neurobiologically speaking.  Interesting isn’t it?  I don’t think God does anything frivolously, especially in the laying down of laws or guidance, so all of those structures he ordered humans to build in very specific ways can’t have been capricious.  We are not Gnostics; the physical world (including our bodies) started out good, we are physical beings, and after the resurrection we will have perfected physical bodies.  The physical is important, it always has been since the beginning.

God even gave specific instruction dealing with physical things all the time, including buildings.  The way He instructed the Jewish tribes to arrange their camp, the instructions for the tent, and then the temple.  Noah’s ark, the ark of the covenant, and Nehushtan the bronze serpent.  God knows us and our minds because He made us and He recognizes the need we have for physical-ness.  No, He is not limited to physical place and clearly when Jesus walked the earth, was crucified, and resurrected things did change, but there was never a proscribed ban on buildings built to hold worshipers.

Notre Dame was built with worship directed toward God.  The artisans and workers poured themselves into it and made their praise physically manifest.  The windows were the Gospel writ large in living color.  Symbols are important, they are not impotent signs, but rather something that has taken on the true essence of the thing it represents.  Symbols have power.

There are people that owe their belief in God to capitulating to His call put forth in beauty.  People have felt His call in churches, before great works of art, or listening to music.  I know the stories of people who were agnostic, but upon traveling to all the great old cathedrals in Europe said they came away knowing He existed, and have followed Him since.  When humans allow God to work through us, or to inspire us, the result can be a glimpse of heaven.  We can definitely see that in nature as well, but when we see something that comes from the effort of a group of humans working together to build instead of destroy… well, we recognize a truth in that.  Civilization.  Civilization directed toward God and in His service.  That’s important.

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Watching Notre Dame burn…

Watching Notre Dame burn, I wept.  I’m not Catholic, nor French, but none of that mattered as I watched The Lady of Paris light up the night in horrible flame.  It surprised me how strong the reaction was inside my heart, and then my head.  I’ve never been to Paris, I’ve never seen that venerable cathedral, and honestly, I think that made me hurt worse.  I feared I would never see it stand again in my lifetime, that I would never get to see the rose windows for myself with my own eyes.  Yes, my first responses were based in selfishness.

My second response was to see a terrible metaphor played out on my television.  It’s okay, dear reader, if you don’t agree, but I find it self-evident that Europe, and the West has lost it’s soul.  It’s lost it’s mooring in Truth, and by that I mean absolute truth that has one source; God.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the one true God Who is triune in nature.  Bastions of the Christian faith that have held out for thousands of years have slipped from their moorings.  They don’t recognize the One Who bought them… and here burns His Cathedral right in the heart of France.

Yes, yes, I do know and truly believe in the end all will be put right, but that’s not where we are right now.  Right now the world is groaning, you could hear it while Notre Dame burned.  Not only was she burning, but burning and toppling at the beginning of Holy Week.  Call it what you will; a metaphor, a sign, a wake-up call… it hurt.  I’m left mumbling like Richard Dreyfuss’s Roy Neary, “This means something.”  It’s not the building burning that made me weep, but the neglect of the Faith amongst the faithful that has lead to the state of disrepair the whole Church catholic is in, no one noticing until it’s being destroyed right in front of us.

Then the morning comes and shows us a new image; fire out, cross still shining.  Yes, the roof is gone and the cathedral is now exposed to the elements, but the heart of the church is still there, and the glorious windows depicting the gospel along with man’s love of God, man’s creative gift from God as we are made in His image.  The devastation is vast, and it will take time and money and expertise to mend it all, but it will be mended Lord willing!  Will the Church, all of us believers of every stripe wake up?  Will we start living and reviving our faith by allowing God to live in us and move us?  God, I hope so.  I beg so.

The other things in the world going on faded out, and for several hours everyone’s eyes were glued to the news and the coverage of the fire.  Now, you see the pictures of the cross, and the parts of the cathedral that have survived.  Some will move on and the images will fade and they won’t act on what they felt when watching it burn, some laughed and cheer while it burned, but some wept. It hit me hard enough that I came back here to this blog of mine that has set idle for three and a half years… and what did I find?  My last post was all about France, about the attack by Muslims on civilians, and hence on civilization, and I said what I will say again; my sentimentality can be a good thing, so can yours, as it can be for everyone that felt it… but it’s not enough.  We have to start acting like Christians, and that means learning the mind of Christ, begging for the mind of Christ, and following the Spirit, doing as He says.

As for me, it meant coming here and writing this, it meant searching out a legit way to give to the restoration of Notre Dame.  It also means to keep living my faith, to broaden my actions, and pray for depth of understanding in order to live out the faith.  I don’t know if anyone still reads my blog… if you are here right now, and you’ve read this far, and you agree with anything I have said… just know you aren’t alone.  Just know there truly is hope, and we can live like there is.  Just know there is Truth and Love, and we can actually live our lives in accord with that, and it is all meaningful.  Christ did indeed die on the cross, but let’s not forget He rose three days later!  I hope I’ll have more to say about all this very soon.

As for me, it feels like another sign that my last post was about France, I’ll have to seriously pray about and consider the import for me, because I do believe, “This means something.”  Don’t forget, it turn’s out Roy Neary was right even when the world around him thought he was nuts…

Grace and Peace to my brothers and sisters, especially all of you over in France.  Revive us again, Lord.

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No, I’m not French, nor a Parisian…

Hang with me here… We just saw another attack against civilians made by Muslims.  They are extremists and they are terrorists and they are Muslim.  They went into Paris and targeted civilians.  They went into Paris with their ideology and they sought wreak as much havoc and kill as many people as they could.  They targeted a free people with the intent not just to kill, but to punish freedom itself.  They worship a false god, and follow false teachings in a book filled with philosophies antithetical to Truth, justice, and freedom.

I’m not French, I wasn’t a New Yorker after 9/11… I’m a small-town American and I won’t pretend to know the level of fear and pain that those innocent people suffered in those cities.  Yes, I stand with them, yes, I pray for them, but I won’t tarnish their experiences by using a pat phrase.  Perhaps instead of wasting our empathy with phrases and hashtags we can instead, or alongside of that, educate ourselves on the threat we all face and what can be done about it.  This can’t be handled in cyberspace.  This can’t be handled by sentiment. Before it can be handled we have to be an in formed populace.

Have you not followed the refugee crisis in Europe?  Have you not learned why ISIS is doing what it is doing?  Have you not read and studied the Koran and the various volumes of the Hadith to understand what is fueling their attacks?  As bad as it was in Paris, do you realize Christian children are being targeted for crucifixion in ISIS controlled territory?  People are being raped, tortured, and killed all for their witness to the true God.  Genocide has happened and now the perpetrators are exporting death.  Russia is on the move and Putin is actually being called upon by Americans to do what we won’t.  We don’t owe it to the victims of these heinous acts of terror to label ourselves with their labels, but rather to respond with knowledge, wisdom, and courage.

I’ve just read an article that was acting offended that the Republican candidates were “politicizing” the Paris attacks… um, yeah, because you are seeing the ineffectiveness of Democratic leadership in the face of an exploded Middle East, an exploding Europe, and an America that can’t control it’s own borders.  I hope that all the candidates both liberal and conservative tell us what they would do about the Islamic threat.  Now is the time folks.

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