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All any parent really wants to do, the good ones anyway, is do what is best for their kids. So, in this odd little gem, a father raises his kids not only off the grid but without exposure to most material things. Leaving them with only time to focus on what he finds important, leading to significant rifts especially as one thing happens after another.
Trigger Warning(s): Violence against animals
Characters & Story
Ben (Viggo Mortensen)
Ben is a different kind of parent, a different kind of dad. While he does have the usual stone face, almost heartless, persona at times, it is because he wants his kids prepared for the worse. He trains them, mind, body, and soul, and engages them in conversations. He doesn’t water anything down and doesn’t lie to them. Something all 6 of his kids love him for.
However, he didn’t raise them alone but with his wife Leslie (Trin Miller). Someone who is no longer able to be a mom for them. So, with her unable to be a counterweight to Ben, it brings up many of Ben’s harshest critiques, his sister Harper (Kathryn Hahn) and father in law Jack (Frank Langella), to the forefront as they question him, threaten him, and Jack even tries to have him arrested. All for the sake of the children.
Bo (George MacKay)
Bo is the oldest of Leslie and Ben’s kids and has turned into a fine young man. A bit weird, definitely socially awkward around attractive girls, but he is proof that Ben’s methods aren’t completely bat-poo crazy. But now he desires to leave the nest, be with people his own age. Something he fears Ben’s reaction to.
Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton)
The one who perhaps lit the flame. He knows what his dad did and exposes his upbringing to Jack. Thus putting into motion perhaps Ben’s greatest fear – losing his kids. All of which wasn’t done in spite, but because there is so much they all are missing out on to live by Ben’s philosophy, you can tell sometimes they want a taste of this high life they are denied of. Not to live in full-time, but a taste.
Things To Note
There is a really excellent rendition of Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child of Mine” at the end of the movie. I mean, it is “Where can I download this?” worthy.
A Complex Family
Usually, when a family, especially a big family like Ben’s, is in a movie, it is about soap opera-esque secrets and drama. This movie though takes a different approach, a refreshing approach. One in which the issue is simply Ben’s parenting methods and how they verge away from the traditional. Not just because he is raising his children in the wilderness, as if they will really need to learn to hunt and kill to survive, but because he doesn’t coddle them. He explains to his youngest Zaja (Shree Crooks) and Nai (Charlie Shotwell) about what rape and sex are, about what happened to their mother, and sometimes at the dinner table. On top of that, he really teaches them the type of survival skills and routine which has made them stronger than the average person.
Yet, with that comes a lack of familiarity to what most consider the norm. Brand names are unfamiliar, they are so isolated to each other’s company that arguably they don’t know how to adapt to someone who didn’t have their upbringing, and with that comes the constant threat of separation. A topic which makes you feel torn for you can see Ben is definitely off his rocker. Within the first ten minutes, we see him have Bo kill a deer, eat some piece of it, and wipe the blood on his forehead in some coming of age ritual. However, at the same time you see how protective and dedicated he is to these kids being proper adults and not simply children until they’re 18 and then realizing that there is so much they were never taught.
With that said, it makes it easy to understand Jack and Harper’s position for these kids are all Jack has now and they are Harper’s family. They are what will remain if they survive Jack’s upbringing. Which is the main problem. These kids use weapons, hunt animals, mountain climb, and train to fight by sparring against each other. Yes, Ben is training them to survive, but what apocalypse scenario is he making them ready for?
The Performances & Writing
All of this, be it the parenting philosophy, the kids themselves, or the adults against Ben’s methods, much less Ben himself, you can’t have a weak link for then it would make this a weird movie. Thankfully, though, there isn’t one actor amongst the cast, even those with small parts like Kielyr (Samantha Isler) and Vespyr (Annalise Basso), who don’t deliver. Ben is polarizing yet as much as you think he may be crazy; you also want to support him. Yet, at the same time, you can understand and support the positions of Jack and Harper. On top of that, the kids aren’t just there, they aren’t simply something to fight over. They have lives, they have personalities. They have hopes, fears, and emotions. The type few juvenile actors get to express consistently through a movie, much less for more than one scene. I mean, usually kid actors are a dime a dozen but each and everyone in this movie seems like the type you should keep an eye on.
On The Fence
Lack of Explanation
Though it is clear that a rebellion against the system is why Ben raises his kids like he does, you have to wonder when it comes to him, and Leslie, what made them decide to have this lifestyle? How did they meet, and little things of that nature. Outside of that, there doesn’t seem to be any big issue to dwell on here and I don’t think I’m saying that purely due to the elation of just finishing the film.
Overall: Positive (Worth Seeing)
I think I’ve said more than enough. Do yourself a favor and check this movie out.