Captain Fantastic – Once in the Wild and Back

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
German title Captain Fantastic – Once in the Wilderness and Back
Original title Captain Fantastic
Country of production USA
Original language English
Year of publication 2016
Length 120 minutes
Age rating FSK 12[1]
JMK 12[2]
Directed by Matt Ross
Script Matt Ross
Production Monica Levinson,
Jamie Patricof,
Shivani Rawat,
Lynette Howell Taylor
Music Alex Somers
Camera Stéphane Fontaine
Edited by Joseph Krings
  • Viggo Mortensen: Ben
  • George MacKay: Bodevan
  • Samantha Isler: Kielyr
  • Annalise Basso: Vespyr
  • Nicholas Hamilton: Rellian
  • Shree Crooks: Zaja
  • Charlie Shotwell: Nai
  • Kathryn Hahn: Harper
  • Trin Miller: Leslie
  • Steve Zahn: Dave
  • Elijah Stevenson: Justin
  • Teddy Van Ee: Jackson
  • Erin Moriarty: Claire
  • Frank Langella: Jack

Captain Fantastic – Einmal Wildnis und zurück (original title: Captain Fantastic) is a tragicomic film drama directed by Matt Ross, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2016. The film was released in US theaters on July 8, 2016 and in German theaters on August 18, 2016.


In the woods on the northwest coast of the USA, away from any civilization, lives the convinced dropout Ben with his family. He tries to prepare his six children as well as possible for the difficulties of life through rigorous physical and mental training. This is his idea of being a father. So he teaches his children that Coke is poisoned water, and teaches them to survive in the wild. This includes killing wild animals with a knife, which he believes is close to nature and inevitable for a life of self-sufficiency. While others celebrate Christmas in December, the family celebrates Noam Chomsky Day because Ben doesn’t want his children to believe in a made-up character. He also dislikes Christians in general. As a result of their upbringing, the children are above average in intelligence and also better physically constituted than their peers. They read Middlemarch, know the Bill of Rights by heart, and can debate Marxism or string theory. Moreover, Ben has taught his children to talk quite openly about death and about sex.

When Ben’s wife Leslie, who suffers from bipolar disorder, commits suicide, the family wants to honor the staunch Buddhist’s last will and testament, which was to be cremated and flushed down a public toilet. Although Leslie’s father, Jack, threatens to call the police if Ben shows up for the funeral, he and the kids make the trip to Leslie’s hometown in New Mexico in their blue-painted, converted school bus named “Steve.” They want to prevent the mother from being buried there according to Christian ritual and in a coffin.

Traveling through modern America is difficult for the children because they have had little contact with this world. The children’s special upbringing causes them to act out several times during the trip. And they often marvel in disbelief at the materialism and extravagance of contemporary American culture. The lifestyles and views of the relatives they meet also strike them as odd, and the reverse is equally true. Ben’s well-off sister Harper and her husband, with whom Ben and his children stop over, have raised their children completely differently and consider Ben’s parenting methods out of touch with reality. For his part, Ben thinks little of their parenting methods and demonstrates the superiority of his educational program with the knowledge of his youngest daughter. Harper’s children, on the other hand, mostly handle their cell phones or measure their strength in shooter games, and Ben’s children quickly realize how different they are from their peers.

Arriving in New Mexico, Ben causes an éclat at the funeral ceremony and is thrown out. Nevertheless, the children are greeted warmly by their grandparents, and Ben must realize that he cannot keep his children away from society. For example, he learns that his oldest son, Bodevan, has applied to several top universities without his knowledge and with Leslie’s support, and ultimately only has acceptances in his hands. Further, it is implied that Ben’s behavior may have been partly the cause of Leslie’s depression, as she found the circumstances of living with Ben overwhelming.

Leslie’s father condemns the dropout family’s lifestyle and threatens lawyers if Ben doesn’t give the kids a regular life with schooling. After a “rescue mission” by the second oldest, who wants to stay with the grandparents, and the oldest daughter narrowly escapes serious injury, Ben finally relents. He decides to leave his children with their grandparents and says goodbye with a heavy heart. But his children outwit both Ben and the grandparents and hide in a secret cargo hold of the bus. Now they persuade their father to free their deceased mother after all. Together, they exhume Leslie, whose Christian burial they were unable to prevent, in order to fulfill her cremation wishes. Ultimately, Bodevan goes to Namibia, and Ben moves to a farm with the remaining children. There they have a life of regular school attendance.


Director and screenplay

The film was directed by Matt Ross, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. Ross was inspired to write the film’s story by his own past: “I spent large parts of my life in the middle of nowhere in Oregon, where my mother was involved in starting an alternative housing project.” There, Ross says he spent his summers in teepees.[3] This is also evident in the film, the director said. There they had bought land together and wanted to live in harmony with nature, far away from any civilization.
Many would have called this a “hippie commune,” however it happened in the eighties, not the sixties.[4] “At a certain age, I made the decision to leave that place so I could be with young people my age,” Ross said.[3]

Cast and preparation

The leading role of the family man Ben Cash was cast with Viggo Mortensen. The role of his wife Leslie, who is only seen in flashbacks in the film, was given to Trin Miller. Bodevan, the eldest son, known as Bo for short in the film, is played by George MacKay. Samantha Isler plays daughter Kielyr, and Annalise Basso plays her twin sister Vespyr. The role of son Rellian was played by Nicholas Hamilton. Shree Crooks plays Zaja, and Charlie Shotwell plays Ben’s youngest son Nai.

A few weeks before filming began, the actors and film crew were brought to the location in western Washington state. Here they were all to prepare for their roles. Ross himself referred to this as “wilderness training camp”. Mortensen was the first to arrive on location; the actor known as Method Actor..[5] used the time to practice playing Ben’s favorite instrument, the bagpipes, and planted the garden, which is also featured in the film. During this preparation time, in addition to the lead actor, the child and young actors who play Ben’s children in the film and called Mortensen their “Summer Dad” during camp were taught how to build a fire, butcher and skin a deer, and climb rocks. They also received music lessons and martial arts training in preparation for their roles.[4][3]

Even during casting, emphasis was placed on the up-and-coming actors being physically fit and also having musical talent.[6] Hamilton, for example, who appears in the film as one of Ben’s sons, has played the drums since he was four years old[7]and George MacKay could also play guitar.[8] Mortensen himself had a small music career to his name and can play the harmonica, for example.[9] He had also known hunting and fishing since he was a small boy, but was not skilled at climbing because he suffers from a fear of heights.[10] Mortensen’s language skills also came in handy in the film, as he not only teaches his children literature and philosophy, but also six languages, some of which he speaks himself.[11]


Filming began in July 2014 in the US state of Washington. Here they filmed among other things
at Deception Pass State Park, Sultan, and the Snohomish River.[12] At Camp Korey in Carnation, the film outfitters had set up the family’s home base, and some scenes were also shot at Index and a nearby forest.[13] Additional filming took place in Gold Bar and at the
elementary school there, and hospital scenes were filmed at Evergreenhealth Hospital in Kirkland. Later in the summer, filming took place in New Mexico, including the cities of Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Mesilla.[12] Filming was completed after 39 days.

Due to existing laws against child labor in the United States, the six young actors involved were not allowed to shoot for more than six hours a day.[14]

Film score

The film’s soundtrack was composed by Alex Somers. The soundtrack, Music from the Film Captain Fantastic, includes 24 songs and was released on July 8, 2016.[15] Mihnea Manduteanu calls Somers’ work one of the best of the year so far, believes the score is likely to polarize and that it is not a minimalist background score, but a very realistic one with a sound that has soul.[16]

Title list

  1. A New Beginning
  2. Church
  3. Campfire
  4. Funeral Pyre
  5. She Slit Her Wrists
  6. Memories
  7. Fireflies
  8. Home
  9. Fur
  10. Dream
  11. Near Death
  12. Water (I’m Right Here)
  13. School Bus
  14. Forrest
  15. Look Forward To
  16. Keepsakes
  17. Remembering
  18. Unsoundness
  19. Waving Goodbye
  20. Day of Your Birth
  21. Water (Not Go Home)
  22. Goodbye..
  23. Disappear
  24. Fortress

Other musical elements of the film are played on various instruments by the actors themselves. At the beginning of the film, when the children go hunting and gut a deer, the Goldberg Variations are played. These songs and others performed in the film were released as the Captain Fantastic – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack on July 15, 2016.

Title list

  1. Boy 1904 – Jónsi & Alex
  2. Sweet Child o’ Mine – Various
  3. Scotland the Braver – Various
  4. I Shall Be Released – Various
  5. Rain Plans – Israel Nash
  6. Goldberg Variations; BWV 988, Variation 30 a 1 Clav. Quodlibet – Glenn Gould
  7. Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 4 in E-Flat Major; BWV 1010 Prélude – Yo-Yo Ma
  8. Varðeldur – Sigur Rós
  9. My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from ‘Titanic’) – The O’Neill Brothers Group
  10. Goldberg Variations – Kirk Ross


The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2016, and was presented at the Cannes International Film Festival from May 17, 2016. The film was released in US theaters on July 8, 2016 and in German theaters on August 18, 2016. From September 3, 2016, the film was screened at the Deauville Film Festival as part of the competition, where it was awarded the top prize as runner-up and additionally the audience award.[17]


Age rating

The film had been rated R by the MPAA in the United States due to the language contained therein and a brief nude scene, advising parents against allowing their children to see the film.[18] One scene that led to this age restriction, in which Mortensen is seen in frontal nudity, he commented, “It’s just a penis.”[19] Moreover, according to Mortensen, the nude scene is part of the story told in the film[10]: “I show myself naked in it as a father to my children to demonstrate the completely natural, uninhibited togetherness of this family.”[20]

In Germany, where the film is FSK 12, the release certificate states, “Individual dramatic scenes may frighten and stress children under 12. However, 12-year-olds and older are able to process them without being overwhelmed, as they are well embedded in the story and conclusively resolved. The film’s calm underlying mood and its sensitive portrayal of family cohesion and caring provide enough emotional support for this age group, plus the humor repeatedly provides distance and relief.”[21]


The film won over 83 percent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 225 total critics as of August 7, 2020). The consensus there states that the thought-provoking themes and the performance of Viggo Mortensen make the film an above-average family drama with unexpected twists.[22] After its theatrical release, the film and its director and screenwriter quickly advanced to potential Oscar contenders, and Mortensen was nominated for Best Lead Actor on January 24, 2017.[23]

Matt Ross directed and also wrote the screenplay for the film

Matthew Jacobs of The Huffington Post describes Captain Fantastic as a spirited film that celebrates life and ingenuity. The witty yet fast-paced film, he said, is an ode of triumph over the burden of the world, which neither means escaping it nor embracing it. The greatest achievement of Matt Ross, Jacobs says, is creating a script that doesn’t feel like a hodgepodge of tree-hugging tropes. Jacobs recognizes a wisdom hiding behind Ben’s philosophy that at times becomes intentionally uncomfortable, and a wisdom evident in his recognizing the ills of a systematized society, but ultimately making a course correction for the good of his children when he realizes he wasn’t right about everything.[24]

For Bryan Alexander of USA Today, the film is in no way an ideological or political story, but only a story about people trying to find a way to live in harmony with themselves and as a group. Nevertheless, Alexander also recognizes the serious message that the tragicomic film conveys by delving into an increasingly divergent political society in the U.S., but ultimately also making Ben rethink his rigid ideological standpoint.[19]

Leslie Felperin of The Hollywood Reporter says that some scenes in the film quite nicely show the exciting victory of an alternative-living class over the suburban philistines, but ultimately the daydreaming shown in the film is ridiculous and only slightly convincing. Moreover, the children in the film are idealized and made into implausible sock puppets. In addition, the film glosses over a form of abuse, which Felperin recognizes in the fact that Ben deliberately puts his children in extreme situations that pose a danger to their physical health.[25]

Leading actor Viggo Mortensen at the Cannes Film Festival 2016

Pete Hammond of Deadline describes the film as a heartwarming, funny yet sad, wonderfully acted little gem that is exactly the kind of film that has been neglected by many. The film attempts to answer the question of what makes a family, which it does better than any film before it in the last ten years. Hammond compares the film to Little Miss Sunshine in this regard, also sees Ross as an Oscar candidate for his work on the screenplay[14], also brought up Viggo Mortensen early on as a possible candidate for another Best Actor Oscar nomination shortly after the film’s U.S. theatrical release, and Captain Fantastic himself as a candidate in the Best Picture category.[26] Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter also sees Mortensen as one of the most promising candidates in the Best Actor category and also considers Courtney Hoffman’s costume design and hairstyling to be Oscar-worthy.[27]

For Walli Müller of NDR, Ross justifiably asks in the film how livable social utopias are. However, despite all the situation comedy, the director does not only tap his topic for punchlines.[28] Hartwig Tegeler from Deutschlandfunk thinks it is important that Ross never makes a mockery of the utopia that Ben lives with his children and which comes to a crisis in the course of the film.[29] Patrick Wellinski of Deutschlandradio Kultur also gives the director credit for not sacrificing the conflicts in the film to banal jokes and laconic moments of longing. According to Wellinski, the film is distinguished first and foremost by its calm, self-confident narrative rhythm and its truly convincing actors, and Mortensen in particular lends his character an inner conflict, especially when the father has to realize that he cannot impose his ideals on his own children.[30]

Box office receipts

In Germany, the film attracted 277,539 moviegoers.[31] The film’s worldwide box office receipts currently stand at US$22.8 million.[32]

Awards (selection)

Artios Awards 2017

  • Nomination for Best Casting in the Studio or Independent DramaCategory[33]

British Academy Film Awards 2017

  • Best Actor in a Leading Role nomination (Viggo Mortensen)[34]

Chlotrudis Awards 2017

  • Nomination for Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen)
  • Nomination for Best Original Screenplay (Matt Ross)

Costume Designers Guild Awards 2017

  • Nomination in the Excellence in Contemporary Film category (Courtney Hoffman)[35]

Critics’ Choice Movie Awards 2016 (December)

  • Best Actor in a Motion Picture Comedy nomination (Viggo Mortensen)[36]

Deauville Film Festival 2016

  • Awarded the audience prize
  • Awarded the Deauville Grand Prize (2nd place)[37]

Golden Globe Awards 2017

  • Best Actor in a Leading Role nomination (Viggo Mortensen)[38]

Golden Space Needle Awards 2016

  • Best PictureAward (Matt Ross)[39]

Cannes International Film Festival 2016

  • Awarded the directing prize in the section Un Certain Regard (Matt Ross)

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2016

  • Awarded the PRÁVO Audience Award[40]

Independent Spirit Awards 2016

  • Best Actor nomination (Viggo Mortensen)[41]

Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards 2017

  • Nomination in the Feature Motion Picture: Best Contemporary Makeup category (Karen McDonald and Akemi Hart)[42]

National Board of Review Awards 2016

  • Inclusion in the Top 10 Independent Films[43]

Online Film Critics Society Awards 2017

  • Best Actor in a Leading Role nomination (Viggo Mortensen)[44]

Palm Springs International Film Festival 2016

  • Director to WatchAward (Matt Ross)

Satellite Awards 2016

  • Nomination for Best Film
  • Nomination for Best Original Screenplay (Matt Ross)
  • Award for Best Leading Actor (Viggo Mortensen)
  • Best Costume Design nomination (Courtney Hoffman)[45][46]

Seattle International Film Festival 2016

  • Awarded the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film

Screen Actors Guild Awards 2017

  • Nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Viggo Mortensen)
  • Nomination for Best Acting Ensemble in a Motion Picture[47]

Young Artist Awards 2017

  • Nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Feature Film in the category Young Actor (Charlie Shotwell)
  • Nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Feature Film in the category Young Actress (Shree Crooks)
  • Nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Feature Film in the category Teen Actor (Nicholas Hamilton)
  • Nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Feature Film in the category Teen Actress (Annalise Basso)
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Feature Film nomination in the Teen Actress category (Samantha Isler)[48]

Web links

Commons: Captain Fantastic – Once Upon a Time in the Wild and Back– Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual references

  1. Release certificate for Captain Fantastic – Einmal Wildnis und zurück. Voluntary Self-Regulation of the Motion Picture Industry (PDF; review number: 161260/K).Template:FSK/Maintenance/type not set and par. 1 longer than 4 characters
  2. Age rating for Captain Fantastic – Once in the wilderness and back. Youth Media Commission.
  3. a b c Mia Galuppo ‘Captain Fantastic’s’ Viggo Mortensen, Matt Ross on Soccer, Fatherhood and Summers Spent in Teepees In: The Hollywood Reporter, July 10, 2016.
  4. a b Bryan Alexander ‘Captain Fantastic’ moves Matt Ross far from ‘Silicon Valley’ In: USA Today, July 5, 2016.
  5. Jérôme Brunner ‘Captain Fantastic’: Aragorn is now a full-on hippie In:, August 10, 2016.
  6. Leah White Alstonville actor Nicholas walks the Cannes red carpet In:, 18 May 2016.
  7. Nicholas Hamilton In: Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  8. Joey Kuhn in conversation with Matt Ross and Viggo Mortensen Captain Fantastic – Q&A with Matt Ross and Viggo Mortensen In:, July 22, 2016.
  9. Emily Blunt: Bluntly Speaking. Viggo Mørtensen (Memento of the original on the Internet Archive, July 11, 2015 ) Info: Thearchive linkwas inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check original and archive link according to instructions and then remove this notice.@1@2Template:Webachiv/IABot/ In: Retrieved August 21, 2016.
  10. a b Viggo Mortensen in conversation with Tim Schäfer ‘The nude scene is part of this story’ – interview with Viggo Mortensen In:, 17 August 2016.
  11. Viggo Mortensen in conversation with Gabriele Flossmann Viggo Mortensen: ‘No one suspects me in Vienna’ In:, 14 August 2016.
  12. a b Las Cruces Mayor Welcomes Captain Fantastic (Memento of the original on the Internet Archive June 11, 2016 ) Info: Thearchive linkwas automatically inserted and has not yet been checked. Please check original and archive link according to instructions, then remove this notice.@1@2Template:Webachiv/IABot/ In: Retrieved June 11, 2016.
  13. Kim Holcomb From the towering trees to the running rivers, Pacific Northwesterners will recognize their backyard as the backdrop of Captain Fantastic In:, July 14, 2016.
  14. a b Pete Hammond Call It ‘Captain Fantastiqué’ As French Fall Big Time For ‘Fantastic’ Viggo Mortensen Movie Premiere – Cannes In:, May 17, 2016.
  15. ‘Captain Fantastic’ Score Album Announced In:, 24 May 2016.
  16. Mihnea Manduteanu Soundtrack review: Captain Fantastic (Alex Somers – 2016) In: Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  17. Competition In: Retrieved 11 September 2016.
  18. Captain Fantastic In: Retrieved June 11, 2016.
  19. a b Bryan Alexander Cannes: Viggo Mortensen is a marvel in ‘Captain Fantastic’ In: USA Today, May 20, 2016.
  20. Viggo Mortensen in conversation with Gabriele Flossmann Viggo Mortensen: ‘No one suspects me in Vienna’ In:, 14 August 2016.
  21. Release rationale for Captain Fantastic – Einmal Wildnis und zurück In: Voluntary self-regulation of the film industry. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  22. Captain Fantastic In: Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  23. Here Are the 2017 Oscar Nominations In:, 24 January 2017.
  24. Matthew Jacobs Viggo Mortensen Raises A Family Off The Grid In Sundance’s Triumphant ‘Captain Fantastic’. Matt Ross’ film received a standing ovation at its premiere In: The Huffington Post, January 25, 2016.
  25. Leslie Felperin ‘Captain Fantastic’: Sundance Review In: The Hollywood Reporter, January 24, 2016.
  26. Pete Hammond Oscars 2016: Six Months In, Are There Any Potential Nominees Out There Yet? In:, July 12, 2016.
  27. Scott Feinberg Feinberg Forecast: The First Look at the 89th Oscar Race In: The Hollywood Reporter, September 9, 2016.
  28. Walli Müller Alternative parenting model in a reality check In:, 16 August 2016.
  29. Hartwig Tegeler Of the difficulties of the free life In: Deutschlandfunk, 17 August 2016.
  30. Patrick Wellinski The hardships of a single dad In: Deutschlandradio Kultur, 18 August 2016.
  31. Top 100 Germany 2016 In: Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  32. Captain Fantastic In: Retrieved October 9, 2018.
  33. Denise Petski Casting Society Unveils 2017 Artios Awards Film Nominees In:, January 3, 2017.
  34. Leo Barraclough BAFTA Film Award Nominations: ‘La La Land’ Leads Race In: Variety, January 9, 2017.
  35. Dave McNary ‘Rogue One,’ ‘La La Land,’ ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Nab Costume Designers Guild Nominations In: Variety, January 12, 2017.
  36. Gregg Kilday ‘La La Land,’ ‘Arrival,’ ‘Moonlight’ Top Critics’ Choice Nominations In: The Hollywood Reporter, December 1, 2016.
  37. Rhonda Richford Ira Sachs’ ‘Little Men’ Takes Top Prize at Deauville Film Festival In: The Hollywood Reporter, September 10, 2016.
  38. Luca Celada The 74th Golden Globe Nominations: La La Land, Moonlight And Emerging TV Talent In:, December 12, 2016.
  39. SIFF 2016 Award Winners In: Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  40. Will Tizard Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2016: Full List of Winners In: Variety, July 9, 2016.
  41. Moonlight and American Honey lead Film Independent Spirit awards nominations In: The Guardian, 22 November 2016.
  42. Carolyn Giardina ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Leads Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Feature Nominations In: The Hollywood Reporter, January 11, 2017.
  43. Hilary Lewis ‘Manchester by the Sea’ Named Best Film by National Board of Review In: The Hollywood Reporter, 29 November 2016.
  44. 2016 Awards In: Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  45. Jazz Tangcay Satellite Nominations Announced In:, 29 November 2016.
  46. Precursor: 21st Satellite Awards In: Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  47. Tracy Brown Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations 2017: complete list of nominees In: Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2016.
  48. 2017 Nominations In: Retrieved 25 March 2017.