A number of friends have recommended the film “Captain Fantastic” to me. None of them were homeschoolers, and when they recommended it they didn’t even mention the homeschooling angle.
Perhaps, given where I live, they were more riveted by the Buddhism and the “stick it to the man” angles.
However, upon reading the reviews, I was looking forward to this film. It sounded like a magnified version of so many homeschoolers I know:
- trying to raise their kids away from the corrupting influence of popular culture
- trying to get back to what was good about traditional culture
- trying desperately not to replicate the mistakes that they think their parents made
“Captain Fantastic” was all that. The film starts with a comic book version of what I know to be the days of many homeschoolers I am acquainted with: The dad is spending real, focused time with his kids. They are in nature. He has borrowed a tradition that he feels had value in the past and updated it [sorta] for his own modern uses.
Keeping the expectations low
I’m not concerned about the comic book nature of the film. By virtue of the medium, films need to present concentrated versions of reality, the same way that haute cuisine reduces an honest broth to a concentrated perfection only served by professionals.
The homeschoolers in this movie are to homeschooling what superheroes are to police officers with their feet on the pavement.
That said, couldn’t this one movie, which is quirky and wonderful in so many ways, have risen above the obvious cliché that it ends with? Really, can all our problems be solved by sending our kids to school?
Apparently, they can.
What’s great about this movie
Here’s a recap of how this movie progresses:
- Homeschooling family comes out of the woods to attend Mom’s funeral
- Homeschooled kids find out how essentially weird they are
- Homeschooled kids also find out how well-educated they are in comparison to their schooled peers
- Well-intentioned grandparents attempt to take kids from loving, though misguided, father
- Kids decide to stick with dad
This is all pretty good, yes? It hits the major points:
- Yep, homeschoolers are weird and guess what? We don’t care!
- Granted, though some homeschoolers are ill-educated louts, homeschooling can be more effective than school for motivated learners.
It doesn’t sugarcoat things, but also doesn’t demonize parents who made admittedly weird decisions.
Then… the dénouement:
- As a result of seeing The Real World, the oldest homeschooler, who has been accepted into “every top university” and clearly loves learning, decides to forego college entirely. Wha’?
- As a result of seeing how great his children have turned out in comparison with kids in The Real World, the dad decides to… move back to The Real World and… send his kids to school? Double-wha’?
Really, I don’t think a movie has ever gone so wrong in the last few short minutes than this one did. The ending of this movie seems more intent on sticking it to anyone who has ever tried to live up to their ideals than on faithfully bringing the characters to a sense of closure.
Rewriting Hollywood, courtesy of Suki’s script-rewriting service
So, for my homeschooled readers, I am going to rewrite the ending for you. Please do watch this movie because you will laugh and cheer this quirky family of super-homeschoolers. But turn it off once the kids return to their dad, and imagine my ending instead:
- As a result of seeing The Real World, the oldest homeschooler chooses the university that will allow him the greatest opportunity to learn and explore, while also growing as a human being amongst other humans. During the summers, he volunteers around the world, and is eventually able to marry his ideals with his life’s work, hopefully a bit more successfully than his dad did.
- As a result of seeing how great his children have turned out in comparison with kids in The Real World, the dad realizes that yes, he is weird, but really, it’s OK. Maybe he’s lonely (he has lost his beloved wife, after all) and he decides to move closer to other humans. That’s great. But he also re-embraces the educational method he and his wife chose, seeing that his children are becoming the strong-willed, thoughtful, morally guided humans that they had hoped to raise.
But that wouldn’t be Hollywood, would it? We can’t celebrate real humans’ real achievements and real quirkiness. We have to force our world of soft greys into the black-and-whites of popular culture.
With this movie, at least, I had hoped for better.