Director Matt Ross opens with a scene straight out of ‘Lord Of The Rings’ wherein a bunch of kids hunt and kill a deer for their dinner. We find out that it is a rite of passage of sorts for one of the boys to turn into a man. It was a gory scene that made me look away from the screen, and I thought oh well, brace yourself because this may be a film of gory images. About a quarter into the film, I settled down because I found myself appreciating what Ross is trying to do, and thinking about the different messages it is trying to convey.
I wish I could say I truly enjoyed it, but I actually admired it more. In the film, Ben (Viggo Mortensen) has isolated his family from society by living in the woods in Oregon, instilling in them ‘radical’ ideas – telling society is fascism and material-centric. When a tragedy strikes the family, they confronted by the same society that he has shunned the kids from. This part of the film fascinated me, how the kids are confronted by the reality of life, and even as educated they are by books, they realize that they know nothing.
Mortenssen is great here – nuanced and convincing. He is the heart and soul of the film, his point is view is celebrated, and Mortenssen has charisma for days to make you come to his side. Curiously, I didn’t. From the beginning, I felt that he was harming the children, and when one of the kids, Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) starts to rebel, I rooted for the rebellion. Ben starts to realize the harm he is doing to his children, and the film fades into one of its several endings. I wish it had stopped there. Without revealing any plot points, I am just going to say that I did not believe what happens next – how some of the characters did an 180. I have to say though, that the film achieves a certain kind of poignancy, and had a very touching conclusion. I wish I had been on board full-time, but I was only with them part of the journey.