Culture Films Liberalism

Don’t Disrespect People – Unless they are Christians – What Captain Fantastic tells us about Western Culture today.


Imagine a film that looks at a right wing home schooling ‘Christian’ family who live in the woods because they want to distance themselves from modern society.   They are taught to hunt and kill, they don’t have much contact with people outside their own family, and the children can repeat verbatim what their parents have taught them. Worst of all their mother dies after committing suicide because of a mental illness that the father has not handled well.   It would be a film that mocked and shocked, that confirmed all our prejudices about crazy right wing American redneck Christians and that left us feeling somewhat satisfied that we are not like them.

Captain Fantastic is such a film – with one major difference. The family who live in the wilds and are disconnected from modern society, are not right wing Christians but liberal ex-hippies. Ben (played by Viggo Mortenson), an idealistic hippy brings up his children in the wilds of Washington State. His wife dies and he and the children go to the funeral, where his in-laws, conservative wealthy Catholics, are trying to have a traditional funeral. His wife of course had wanted a Buddhist ceremony – her body to be burned in the wilds and her ashes flushed down a toilet.

Normally in a film review I would write about the cinematography (very good), or the acting (excellent – especially by the children and Mortenson), but this is one film that goes way beyond that. It’s a long time since I have been made so depressed and angry by a film.   Why?

Shallow and Smug

I have seen more than a few superficial Disneyesque type films. Although this is up with the worst of them in terms of its shallowness, the reason for being so depressed and angry was not because of this alone.   Rather it is because this is one of the most hateful films I have ever seen.   It is crass, shallow, smug and discriminatory. Some of the people sitting around me loved it! Why not? It after all confirmed their prejudices and what they already ‘know’.

The hippies were cool, told it like it is, loved their kids, were free and open about sex and of course knew how to deal with death. On the other hand the Catholics were old, cold, institutional, rigid, dumb, heartless and hypocritical. Whilst the hippies of course had their quirks, by the end these are all worked out and everyone (apart from the mum who killed herself) lives happily ever after with the children now going to a real school – except the oldest who has rejected Harvard and gone to Namibia presumably to find himself.

Buddhist Killers?

The film is completely unrealistic – Buddhists don’t go round slaughtering deer with knives as though they are cavemen in the wilds and its highly unlikely that the dug up dead body of the mother would look so remarkably fresh and serene with no decomposition despite the passing of several days.   But worse than these fantasies is the greatest error of all – the teaching that there really is no such thing as human sin (unless it is the corporate evils of fascists and capitalists). It’s fine for a man to walk around naked in front of his 8-year-old daughter. That’s natural and not open to abuse at all!

And then there was the mockery of death and indeed of humanity. Death is really just a laugh. We are nothing but ashes worthy only to be flushed down toilets. The last thing we need is to be buried under a gravestone which speaks of eternity.  The film finishes with Dylan’s beautiful ‘I shall be released’

They say ev’rything can be replaced
Yet ev’ry distance is not near
So I remember ev’ry face
Of ev’ry man who put me here

I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

In this narrative death is release. But only in the sense that it is just one set of atoms returning to the great set of atoms. Your life is summed up as some kind of cosmic joke. Burn the dead, flush them down the toilet, dream about them and just get on with what ever you want.

The Christian Exception

Finally we have the open and blatant mocking of Christianity. The stand out line in the whole film is when the father tells the children (who are appalled at the fatness of ordinary Americans) that ‘we don’t mock or disrespect people’. To which the youngest child replies, ‘except Christians’. This witty piece of script writing was met with a guffaw by a couple behind us in the cinema. But sadly it is true. No right-on, in touch with the zeitgeist American or British movie maker would ever have made such a remark about Islam, or indeed any other religion or philosophy – but Christians are the scum of respectable society – so they are fair game.  This is further reinforced in a scene where the family’s bus is stopped by a policeman who is frightened off by the children declaring they are Christian homeschoolers, quoting the bible and singing a Christian song! Hippie homeschoolers are cool…Christian homeschoolers are so freakish and frightening they even scare away the nasty American police!

My point in writing this is not to feed a Christian persecution complex. People mock us and call us names – as anyone who reads the psalms knows – it has ever been thus. Get over it. They hated Christ, they will hate his people. We are to follow him, not by fearing but by loving them. My point in writing is rather for those who are sceptics, newsmakers and news reporters, non-Christians and those for whom a film like this confirms their ‘reality’. I just simply want to ask – yes there are ‘Christians’ like the caricatures portrayed in Captain Fantastic but they are a tiny minority. However the view that this is what Christianity either is, or leads to, is not a minority view amongst those who consider themselves the great and good of our culture. I just simply want to question and challenge that prejudice.

Life is But a Joke

Another aspect of contemporary culture reflected in the film is the constant trivilisation of the serious. For example instead of Christmas the family celebrate Noam Chomsky day – Christmas is after all only about a mystical elf/religious figure. Noam Chomsky on the other hand has done a great deal for humanity. Quite what is never really explained, but the children get to celebrate it by being given an assortment of various weapons to kill things – as good Buddhists do! The eight-year-old girl is given The Joy of Sex as a kind of joke.   Death, sex and God are all jokes in this Brave New World. Christ is replaced by Chomsky.

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is an Elton John song from my boyhood. I wonder whether the title of the film was deliberately taken from the song? If not it is an inspired co-incidence –

And all this talk of Jesus coming back to see us
Mmm mmm couldn’t fool us
For we were spinning out our lines walking on the wire
Hand in hand went music and the rhyme
The Captain and the Kid stepping in the ring
From here on sonny sonny sonny, it’s a long and lonely climb

Haters Hate

This film is a revealing film because it shows the attitudes of the current cultural elites. It is a hateful film because it inspires and encourages ignorance, prejudice and hatred.   It is an ignorant simplistic film because it seems to present only two ways to live – either as part of a fascistic, capitalistic, materialistic, hypocritical ‘Christian’ society, or as a liberated, freer, Buddhist ethic.   It’s a false and fatal choice. There is a third, fourth, fifth and better way!

If you want to know the zeitgeist of our culture – or at least the narrative that the metro-elites continually feed us – then Captain Fantastic will give you the picture. If it is your zeitgeist it will confirm all your preconceptions and prejudices. Of course The Guardian loved it – With its thrillingly life-affirming performances, it’s a shame that Captain Fantastic’s “strong language” has earned it a 15 certificate; there’s more here for adolescent audiences to enjoy and appreciate than in much 12-rated blockbuster fare. He may not be a superhero, but in terms of imagination, this captain really can fly.”

Life affirming?! It’s life affirming in the same way that Aladdin or Frozen is. In a fantasy world. Meanwhile in the real world, where most people can’t afford to take 15 years out to go and live in their own wood, Aleppo is being bombed to nonsense, Nigeria is facing famine, a report released today tells us that child trafficking has multiplied three times in Scotland, and I have to deal with cancer and death every week.

And the Churches response? Yes the joyless hard-hearted institutionalized bigots are for real…as are the crazy home-schoolers. Although a more nuanced and compassionate picture would recognize that some/most church institutions do a great deal of good and home schooling is not necessarily a pathological condition!   But I think what worries me just as much as the hypocrites and the eccentrics is the gutless reaction of so many Christian leaders to this fantasy world being portrayed by the rich and powerful. I can already see the ‘life-affirming’ reviews from those who will see this as some kind of parable and way of connecting with contemporary life.   Even good kind, wise evangelicals can sell the pass – witness the Archbishop of Canterbury’s latest caving into the culture –

Today I dared to question Vicky Beeching’s endorsement of an article by a bi-sexual man and the forces of ‘Christian’ progressivism went wild. Apparently I don’t understand bi-sexuality. I was sent this by Rachel Held Evans – another one of the Christians who have just compromised totally with the culture –

What astounded me is how so many of those tweeting me, style themselves as artists and musicians. It seems as though the Christian art and music scene has a life of its own – one which closely mirrors the life of the general art and music scene.   Christianity is just a style, a type of clothing to be put on or off, as one feels like.   Its all so safe, and comfortable and culturally unchallenging.
Where are the radicals? Where are the prophets? What good is the salt if it has lost its saltiness – except to be thrown into the fire? What good is light if it is hidden under a jar? What good is a Christian being leader of a political party if on the one hand he can rightly rail against the injustice facing many refugees, whilst on the other defending a politician in his own party who argues that prostitution should be offered to school children as a career choice!

I read Psalm 12 this morning. It seems apposite:

Psa. 12:1    Help, LORD, for no one is faithful anymore;

                        those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.

2          Everyone lies to their neighbor;

                        they flatter with their lips

                        but harbor deception in their hearts.

3          May the LORD silence all flattering lips

                        and every boastful tongue—

4          those who say,

                        “By our tongues we will prevail;

                        our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”

5          “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,

                        I will now arise,” says the LORD.

                        “I will protect them from those who malign them.”

6          And the words of the LORD are flawless,

                        like silver purified in a crucible,

                        like gold refined seven times.

7          You, LORD, will keep the needy safe

                        and will protect us forever from the wicked,

8          who freely strut about

                        when what is vile is honored by the human race.







  1. David, I worry about you sometimes if what you say about how you are feeling is true and not for rhetorical effect. “Depressed and angry” – this would be in keeping with the “light and momentary troubles” that the apostle Paul talks of – right? I get the traditional evangelical distress at sin and the need to not minimalise the horrific effects of sin but out default is joy in the Lord being our strength. “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fear relieved”.

    “Where are the prophets?” Well, is it not the case that the prophets were the ones who were without honour only among their own people in scripture? Have you considered that maybe just maybe the church often times merely reflects the same brokenness and sickness due to sin of the surrounding culture? Have you considered that maybe prophets are there as they have always been, have got tired of not being listened to or welcomed and have been obedient to Jesus’ teaching he had of the disciples who wen not welcomed were to warn of people not receiving the kingdom, to warn of worse than Sodom and Gamorrah and to shake the dust off sandals as a testimony against the unwelcoming?

    Your closing paragraph can come across as a bit desperate. I’m not sure if that was your intention or your intention was to try and alert. Either way, we know, we are aware of the consequences of sin, we see it every day in the news. A question – where are the leaders, those spoken of in Hebrews 13 who exude faith to imitate? For if church and society does not have that but the only light in the church being darkness then what is there to bring hope where there is despair?

    I don’t know about this film and reading your review of it, hasn’t encouraged me to consider seeing it. You did write something I found encouraging some time ago however, about thinking that comedians are prophets. Rather than the cinema, I’ll be heading out to a comedy club tonight. Rarely if ever do I find myself depressed and angry with going to a comedy club.

    One more thing the apostle Paul said – “the joy of the Lord is my strength”. Please, don’t be depressed and angry,

    1. Oh dear, imagine a Christian whoever gets depressed or angry?! They must be a dreadful sinner! They must not know the joy of the Lord as their strength! welcome to the ranks of Job’s comforters! and please don’t worry about me – like the joy of the Lord be your strength!

  2. Your whole blog is one big victimhood whine about being persecuted for your Faith. This is not persecution. Wouldn’t it be better to do what you’ve been charged to do? Share the gospel and not whine about it when people it when people reject it and you? You come off as a little kid on the corner yelling and whining when people don’t want to buy your lemonade or blaming them for having a predisposition for grape juice instead. Sharing the gospel as a minister is not about whining. Please do grow up

    1. It’s interesting how you completely misrepresent this blog. There is no whining here. I’m just simply pointing out what is clearly evident within the culture. The fact that you don’t like that, and instead just resort to personal abuse, says more about you than anything else. If you are really concerned about sharing the gospel, then perhaps the best thing to do is read the examples that are given in the new Testament. There you will often find cultural critique (Acts 17) and the apostles and Jesus pointing out personal and societal sin. I just want to follow their example. But then again you would probably have accused them of whining as well!

  3. “Where are the radicals? Where are the prophets? What good is the salt if it has lost its saltiness – except to be thrown into the fire? What good is light if it is hidden under a jar?”

    The difficulty may be that most of us have no means of speaking into the public forum, or challenging those who have compromised, in the way that “public figures” have. This is no criticism of DAR. I value his regular contributions, and often either quote him, or refer to him, in my own blog ( – if anyone is interested!). However, apart from the blog – with a limited readership – I can only comment on online newspaper columns, and other such fora. This I do to the best of my ability – but it is a long way from what I would wish to do!

    Any worthwhile advice happily received!

  4. CBR,

    What would you wish to do?

    Don’t know your personal circumstances, but you may have benefitted from the Solas training Day, today as the above You Tube clip may show.

    For me the biggest, challenge is within the Church and it’s leadership, that David has clearly shown with reference to AoC and Beeching (of whom I was unaware), but their voices carry weight, influence because of their position. Though I seek out voices such as David, and he is not the only one, (Andrew Wilson and others have responded to Beeching and others who support her) many others do not and either go with the flow of the media, colleagues, family, friends and neighbours or withdraw completely into the word of God. Our walls are porous, through outside pressures

    All I can do is respond in the areas of control and influence in my own life, which is not wide.

    Do we hear any apologetics within the local setting and within services or are whole topics ignored in the name of expositional preaching rather than incorporate by deconstruction,current culture and offer Christ as the answer to all hopes, dreams, identity, security and satisfaction that are being sought from broken cisterns ?

    1. Thanks, Geoff. Regretfully (in this context) I now live in SW France – just a wee bit too far away to benefit from SOLAS events! I do my little bit – from providing some solid, Biblical teaching to a group of English-speakers, to preaching (in both English and French, in the French speaking Evangelical Fellowship to which my wife and I belong, to responding to comments in online newspaper fora, to publishing my blog – latest post does reference Richard Dawkins (although I doubt that he will ever read it!).

      As one English friend, here in France, often says: “The church is dying out of ignorance – ignorance of the Word.” If you heard some of what is proclaimed in some English-speaking groups, by members of the clergy, here in France, you would understand exactly from where he is coming!

      Blessings, and shalom.


      PS. Just back from holiday, but will be watching the video very soon!

  5. I share CBR’s frustration; I too wish that I had a more public voice. I regularly blog on HospitalDr but the posting must have at least some medical connection.

    Perhaps the news today that the junior doctors’ strikes have been called off shows that the “wee small voice” may contribute a little to the discussion.

    My previous blog on this issue was picked up by a Sunday Times health correspondent, and I was approached by a couple of Japanese journalists following a posting I made at the time of Margaret Thatcher’s death.

    So take courage CBR, your views may go further than you think.

  6. Very good, goodfeltg, with a movement from the generality of morals, ethics, which can not then be gainsaid by the specific applications of “harm” and “self -interest.” targetted at a group that prides itself as existing for the benefit of others.

    The voices in opposition, including yours, have prevailed.

    It would be interesting to know how many stopped to think to trace the roots of public service and the conflict with self interest. It my time in the NHS it was evident that many did not accept, or barely considered, that being a public servant in the NHS, ultimately means being a servant to the government, and “he who pays the piper calls the tune”, even if you don’t personally like the policies and “collective bargaining” is no longer a reality and basic principles contract law ignored or circumvented. But those questions are ancillary to the ones you start with, self v other and the “neighbour principle.”

    How can any of your blogs be redacted out of existence, as long as they contain a smattering of words like “amputate.”?

    Does anyone seek to contradict in comments, or debate, your questioning of present cultural mores?

  7. I saw a slightly different film with the same title I think.

    There were plenty of challenges to the way the family were being brought up. There was a long sub-context that the mother could have been treated and still alive as opposed to committing suicide. The father has seen how some of his approaches (the sons injury, the accident with his daughter, the cuts and scars, the brutal physical training, the general social ineptitude of his kids – none of these are sugar coated) are wrong. The father even chose to leave his kids with the Catholic grandparents as he felt that this might be what they wanted/needed (they chose the father of course). But the end of the film is not a carry forward from the opening. Things have changed.

    The state of the mother several days later could have been due to being embalmed. Thats what I thought when I saw it.

    Its not a Christian film so your belief that the greatest error in the film is about there being no such thing as human sin is limited to those who belief in that sort of thing.

    You do know nudists walk around in from of children yes? And they are not abusers. They even have clubs and beaches. Although the actual scene of the naked father was a bit gratuitous I suppose.

    Whilst I would be unhappy with the polluting effect of my ashes in the sewers I have to say, again, that just because you dont like something doesnt mean that others have to conform to your views. I didnt see death as a laugh in the film and the scene with the family paying their respects was touching.

    It would be interesting to have/see a discourse about how Christianity is perceived. And how Christianity perceives itself and its place in the world. You see caricature and prejudice. Others see Christianity as an exceptionally powerful and demanding force in politics and society. Christianity, more than other faith groups in the West I think, seeks to assert itself in other peoples lives through political and societal processes. If Christianity doesnt want something to happen or change, then it is a lot harder to achieve. Of course, in other areas of the globe, Christians, along with LGBT and atheists, are the victims of this type of thinking and the repercussions are much greater than a film. Basically the film you watched that made you depressed and angry was a rejection of the dominance of Christianity but try to get some perspective – in other places rejection of the dominant religious control gets you killed. I prefer the popcorn option frankly.

    The Guardian offered this as a review as well “So is Ben a creepy authoritarian cult leader or quixotic countercultural hero? Perhaps we are supposed to believe he’s a charismatic mix of the two. But it’s fudged, and there is something wildly and unintentionally pompous and preposterous about Ben, who is against “organised religion” but appears to think Buddhism is somehow ethically and intellectually superior to Christianity. This is a macho story of men’s intellectual development: Ben’s son, Bo is the putative academic star; the sisters aren’t important and, in this film, women are either irrelevant, saintly or dead.”

    Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

    Final thought – “This film is a revealing film because it shows the attitudes of the current cultural elites. It is a hateful film because it inspires and encourages ignorance, prejudice and hatred.”

    Perhaps but then we have religious elites like yourself who perform the same task for the other side of the debate. Every Sunday, Christians across the Globe hear the voices of their leaders, the majority of whom have certain world views. And that is fine. People elected to go to church, listen to what is said and donate their money. What is said often inspires and encourages ignorance, prejudice and hatred. Why should people who make and go to these types of films be any different. Why is your worldview the only one that can be made into films?

  8. CBR,

    Apologies. I’ve just looked at your blog, the first page and liked it.

    Why did you start it? What did you hope to achieve? You have 38 followers. Who knows how you’ve influenced, and who they influence? God does.

    This is an example from my own life, It’ not about me but neither is it about the gospel.

    I attended an NHS multi disciplinary meeting, 20 or more, including private sector, and local authorities. It was about getting the message of cardio-vascular disease risk, across to the public in community settings. not primary care settings. There had been risk assessment algorims linked with questions to ask the idividuals in private face to face meetings om lifestyle, smoking, weight, measurement combined with practitioner taken cholesterol readings. The professionals were insistent on using their language to reveal the risk level to each individual: this is your “relative risk” and this is your “absolute risk” they had to advise. The whole project was to be delivered to the most deprived areas. I spoke up, to meet vociferous opposition from the professionals: “why don’t you just say, I asked, “This is your personal risk of CVD”, rather than this is your “absolute risk”. But no, they were having none of it.

    The meeting ended. I happened to be sitting to a pharmacist from Boots. Not long after that after a stroke and nearing the end of the organisation, the Primary Care Trust and my post being jettisoned, I ceased to be employed .
    Some years later I met that pharmacist, who told me that the system had been changed as a result of what I said. I hadn’t known that until then, even from former colleagues.

    We want to make a difference, and we to see results during our lives, but we live by faith, not by sight. Augustine’s mother didn’t live to see the conversion of her son, did she. God wasn’t pleased with King David’s counting.

    I feel very frustrated at times, a wasted life for 47 years, now also curtailed through health, little opportunity or interest from others to pass on what I’ve learned from my time of conversion, and a feeling of deep inadequacy, But I’m reminded that someone said “Inadequacy is the first qualification for being a Christian” and of God using Moses an 80 year old with a stick and a stammer, for His redemptive purpose. So He can use us on a much reduced scale. And that He doesn’t love us because we are useful to Him, but He loves us because He loves us.

    Be encouraged. Be encouraged by what you write.

    1. Thank you, Geoff. I hope that you will like the latest post.

      I also agree that God alone knows the influence we are, and have been, on others (sadly, for ill as well as for good!). I could provide a few examples from my own life (of considerably more than 46 years!!!). I have often said that Father God didn’t make me a Billy Graham because He knew that if I was aware that I had been instrumental in the salvation of so many, then no building in the world would have been large enough to contain just my head! However, He has showed me the ones and twos to encourage me that my work has not all been in vain! Only in Glory will we see the full picture!

      In Him


  9. As someone who’s come to understand who owns and controls all the media around the world, this is only par for the course. Same people own all the banks, control all political parties, own all the media and start all the wars.

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