Adventures in Utopia

November 13, 2017 12:00 am | Updated 04:42 am IST

Why writingCaptain Fantastic made actor-director Matt Ross question his own parenting values

Superhero fare: Captain Fantastic is about a family reintegrating into society after living in isolation for a decade (below) Matt Rossspecial arrangement

Superhero fare: Captain Fantastic is about a family reintegrating into society after living in isolation for a decade (below) Matt Rossspecial arrangement

Over a crackling phone line that is very much reminiscent of a 90s dial up modem, Matt Ross insists that he wasn’t tricking anyone when he named his movie Captain Fantastic , especially given that “we live in a culture now that is entirely dominated by superhero movies”. The actor-director, best known for his role in the TV series Silicon Valley, as the antagonistic tech titan Gavin Belson, says that calling it so was intentional, as it makes us question if parenting is a heroic act.

His second directorial venture after 28 Hotel Rooms , Captain Fantastic is about an ‘off-the-grid’ family that has to reintegrate into society after living in isolation for a decade. We’re talking about children home-schooled in Marxism, while learning how to farm and hunt for food and rejecting organised religion and capitalism, of course. The 2016 film that had him questioning his parenting values also won him the coveted Best Director award in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival.

Alternative childhood

The movie is special for Ross, who is also a product of alternative communities in northern California and Oregon. “The film is more personal than autobiographical. I was raised at different points of my life in rural parts of the US where we lived very deep in the woods. Once, we did move to a town with 15,000 people and I remember feeling very much what the oldest boy in the movie feels — very isolated. My brother and I could — for hours and hours and hours — be by ourselves,” says Ross, who has acted in movies like American Horror Storyand American Psycho. He’s also quick to shut down the train of thought comparing the father of the movie to one of his parents — “my mother is not the Viggo Mortensen character at all” — and that Captain Fantastic is merely a fantasy of how he would like to raise his kids.

Politics and more

So, given the timing of the movie, did he think it would be relevant politically and socially? Ross lets out a throaty, ironic laugh when he says he “didn’t know [at that time] that the President would be Trump” or that “we’d be dealing with white nationalism in the country”. But he does feel that some of the discussions, based on the movie, are “universal” and not just restricted to the US.

All Ross wants is that the movie be challenging for the audience. “I hope they think Viggo is right sometimes and also conditioned by the way he behaves at other times. I like watching a movie where sometimes I understand why the character is behaving a certain way and other times I don’t. That’s much more like real life. You don’t want a one-dimensional hero,” he says.

Tech talk

Speaking of challenging characters, it would be amiss if a conversation with Ross didn’t include any talk of his Silicon Valley character, a corporate crackpot in the tech industry and a mercenary businessman (complete with his own personal spiritual guru), while trying to save the world with… capitalism. It couldn’t be more opposite to the father he envisioned in Captain Fantastic .

“The truth is that it’s completely coincidental,” he shares. Ross says he wrote the movie before Gavin Belson was even offered to him. “It’s random that the role I play is a techie and there is a discussion about how technology influences our lives with the kids [in the movie]. That was just something I was reflecting on: that we’re all addicted to our cell phones and computers and I wanted to bring that into the picture. And Gavin Belson is just a character, I don’t write that. I simply memorise the lines and play him,” he says.

Captain Fantastic will air on December 3 on Sony Le Plex HD, at 3 p.m.

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