Tag Archives: capitalism

Captain Fantastic (2016): power to the people, stick it to the man!

Deep in the woods and far away from American capitalistic society, plagued with culture of consumerism, materialism and narcissism, Ben Cash, a patriarch and a father, is raising his six children. Surrounded by nothing but trees, rivers and mountains, his family is living in an unconventional and self-sufficient micro-utopia, based in their unanimous and unconditional refusal of living in what they call “capitalistic fascism”. Refusing to live in a society controlled by money and material goods, they instead form a highly routinised, but entirely self-sufficient way of living, where nothing but demanding physical routines, exercising of survival techniques and extensive, in-depth learning of maths, physics, literature and philosophy fill their daily schedule.

Ben Cash, who is subtly transitioning between the role of an authoritarian patriarch and that of a gentle, understanding and maternal father, is openly contemptuous toward capitalistic society in which people are ever more aggressively ruled by corporations and where any sense of democracy and socio-environmental awareness is increasingly fading away due to narcissistic alienation of first world’s shopping mall population. It is due to him seeing just how powerless, alienated and numb people are, how unable to see anything beyond the newest fashion or trend and how disinterested in the damage that this increasing consumerism is doing to the planet, that he makes a choice of raising his children in complete isolation from all consumer goods, modern technology, popular music and trashy novels – something that, in turn, also means raising them away from institutionalized school system and religion, nationalistic ideology and patriotism, normative social conventions and socially-constructed gender roles. Their idyllic utopia is representing a world in which good education and the ability to argument one’s opinion is celebrated above all else – and where living in the heart of a wild and unpredictable nature is still considered the safest shelter from the monstrous, to humans and environment always damaging capitalistic system.

But when a tragic news about the death of their mother reaches their ideally constructed family life, they suddenly need to leave their safe-zone and step into the civilization; if only to attend her funeral on the other side of the country. And it is here, with them finally setting foot into chaotic everyday of American urban life, that we can observe first negative signs of their isolated upbringing. Bo, the eldest son who only recently came of age, finds it especially hard when he realizes just how insufficient his knowledge about life is, how difficult carrying a conversation with his peers with absolutely no knowledge about pop-culture references and how confusing to understand the difference between innocent flirting and falling in love for someone who has no experiences with girls whatsoever.

Captain Fantastic, easily one of the best films of the year, is therefore continuously playing with a question: is Ben truly the best father in the world, Captain Fantastic, who is effectively resisting to the system and is enabling his children the best possible alternate way of living? Or does his approach to parenthood also has a somewhat darker, problematic side that at times borders on abuse?

The film actively encourages us to think about the meaning of parenthood and about the role that each parent plays for his children – but it skilfully avoids to either idealize or criticise Ben’s unique vision of what family life should look like. He is a fascinating and superbly written (as well as acted) character that never fells into the trap of a good/bad parent dichotomy. As every person, but even more so as a parent, he is imperfect, he makes mistakes and has lapses in judgement, but all while trying to do the right thing at building the best possible life for his family.

Matt Ross’s feature, refusing to step on either side, therefore recognizes flaws and weaknesses in both lifestyles – in a hippie-inspired communal life in the nature, as well as in life infected by consumer capitalism that has spread through the rest of the Western civilization. Yet when we compare his parenting to that of his sister’s permissive, protective and infantilizing way of raising her kids, our idealistic protagonist still comes across as a somewhat better parent – one who treats his children with respect, who does not lie to them about the cause of their mother’s death and who sees them all as equal, no matter their age or gender.

This road movie, that at times comes across as a mixture of Into the Wild (2007) and Little Miss Sunshine (2006), definitely has quite an unconventional premise: how to sabotage their mother’s funeral and rescue her remains before she gets swallowed by the system to which she resisted all her live for the remaining eternity. But behind this simple, yet very unusual story, is a very straightforward critique of our society, as well as a film about what it means to be a family in a time when all that seems to matter is money and everything that money can buy.

As they return to their secluded home in the middle of nowhere, safely distanced from the aggressive system that at all cost tried to suck them into its depth during their roadtrip, they quickly slip back into their daily routine, but with one important change: Bo, who has outgrown the idyllic utopia his father has built for him and his siblings, leaves the captain’s crew to continue his adventures, broaden his horizons and experience life in foreign countries. Since there is always a limit to what our parents can teach us, there usually comes a time when we need to part ways and go on our own path, to make our own experiences. Their communal self-sufficient way of living cannot go on forever, as each of them will eventually need to leave the nest – but what is important is that they will set their feet into the real world with a completely unique, different set of eyes, free of any hate or prejudice, but full of knowledge and hunger to learn. Bo’s departure therefore gives us nothing but hope that he is off to keep on fighting the good fight; as he chooses to keep on living his life outside of the system, following his own rules, living by his own principles. Or as Bo and the youngest of the six conclude their dialogue: “Power to the people!” “Stick it to the man!”

The Basics:
Directed by: Matt Ross
Written by: Matt Ross
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso
Running Time: 118 minutes
Year: 2016
Rating: 9

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Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

I’ve been meaning to write this review for a couple of months now, but somehow didn’t find the time (or the energy) for it.

It is still a puzzle to me how this book ever managed to become such a hit, because to say that it is a complete trash of a literature wouldn’t do it justice. I avoided reading it for as long as it was possible, thinking that it was probably something that bored housewives in trapped, unfulfilled marriages read for entertainment. But when it became a number one book to read among my generation (I’m in my mid-twenties), I figured that there must be something else to it. And when they announced the movie adaptation I finally decided to give it a try. I barely managed to make my way through the first 100 pages; I have never in my life read something so badly written. I immediately took back every bad word I ever said about Twilight saga books, because compared to that, Twilight was almost like reading Dostoevsky. However, all badly written dialogues aside, it quickly became apparent to me what the real appeal of this book (and film) is. This is not a story about love between two individuals and it is also not about sex – this is, more than anything else, a love story about capitalism.

When Anastasia Steel, a virginal college student from a regular working class family, meets a 27 years old multi-millionaire (who built his business empire all by himself, I may add; although we never get the information what exactly it is he does) it is not a love at first sight. She does, however, fall in love – but with his money and his luxurious lifestyle. This may not be so apparent in the movie, but in the book she endlessly obsesses over his wealth and lists label names with a dedication worthy of American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman: Calvin Klein, Apple, Audi, Gucci, Cartier; to name just a few. Put that on top of the fact that one of their first dates includes a ride in his private helicopter and that he buys her a car as a graduation present, and I think you will agree with me that those are the things that are supposed to turn the readers on, not the sex. And in return for this new, fabulous life that he provides for her, she is more than willing to accept a few of his kinks (that would be a no-go if he was poor, or even if he was an average, semi-successful middle class guy). He may be a creepy stalker-type who likes to hurt women (which is explained by some cheap psychology about his traumatic childhood and unresolved mommy issues), but she is hardly a victim here. When every sane woman would run for the hills if a man would start to stalk her (there is quite a few scenes when I felt I was watching a film about some long lost brother of Ted Bundy – he keeps showing up wherever she goes, he’s tracking her phone, he completely isolates her from her family and friends after the graduation and shows up unannounced at her mother’s house when she leaves for a couple of days to “clear up her head”), she chooses to stay. Not only that: she finds his stalking (which isn’t considered creepy and problematic, but as him being persistent) romantic. There has been a lot of talk about this story “being liberating” for some women (which is something that the writer herself continuously brags about), but this couldn’t be less true. It is possible that it inspired a few desperate housewives to spice things up a bit in the bedroom, but the whole message of the book couldn’t be less empowering for women. It’s actually quite the opposite – it completely diminishes every single thing the feminists around the world have fought for in the last hundred of years. But how is it even possible that so many women identified with that? I found the only possible explanation in this quote from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex:

Indeed, beside every individual’s claim to assert himself as subject lies the temptation to flee freedom and to make himself into a thing: it is a pernicious path because the individual, passive, alienated and lost, is prey to a foreign will, cut off from his transcendence, robbed of all worth. But it is an easy path: the anguish and stress of authentically assumed existence are thus avoided. Therefore the man who sets the woman up as an Other will find in her a deep complicity. And a woman makes no claim for herself as subject because she lacks concrete means, because she senses the necessary link connecting her to a man without positing its reciprocity, and because she often derives satisfaction from the role as Other.

Engels was one of the first ones who tried to show that there’s a connection between gender and class subordination and said that inside of a marriage (or rather, inside of a heterosexual relationship, considering it is 2015) a woman represents the proletariat, while a man represents the capital. This couldn’t be more relevant in the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, especially if we look at one of the most iconic scenes of the film, a negotiation regarding a “sex contract” between Anastasia and Grey. “There will be no fist fucking, but everything else is okay” – and she walks out of the negotiation feeling like a strong woman who holds all the cards in her hands. But it is actually he who is the winner in the situation, because he got exactly what he wanted: her. She is the proletariat who negotiated herself the smallest amount of freedom and feels like a winner, and he is the capitalist; the one who owns her completely, without her even knowing how little control she has in the situation. The only case in which she would walk out as a free, strong and confident woman is if she would tear the contract apart, tell him to go fuck himself and never see him again. So no; this story is not about women empowerment. It’s about women willingly becoming slaves (or sex toys, if you will) to men in order to climb up the social ladder and getting a glimpse of what a life among the 1% looks like.

As far as their BDSM sexual practice (that was mainly criticized for all the wrong reasons: for not being “kinky” enough, for not including enough nudity etc.) goes – this were hardly the things that bothered me the most (or at all). What I found repulsive, however, was the way in which BDSM was portrayed. As far as I know (and I admit, this is not really my domain) such sexual practices are mostly based on mutual respect between two partners. While here we have an “innocent”, sexually inexperienced girl who lets herself get trapped into being Grey’s submissive (without knowing what this actually means, or at least so it seems) and a man who doesn’t so much enjoy sex, as he genuinely enjoys hurting women (true, with their consent – which can be, as we can see, bought).  She is intimidated, but at the same time fascinated by him and by everything he represents, while he doesn’t value her at all as a human being: she’s a thing that he tries to conquer and control.

Dakota Johnson, who portrays Anastasia, actually does a good job and was, at least for me, one of the few things in this film that wasn’t completely awful. However, this was a really unflattering role and I hope she moves on to better projects after they stop filming these series, as Kristen Stewart did after Twilight. Jamie Dornan, sadly, does a pretty average job. Having watched the recent BBC series The Fall, where he plays a serial killer (who sexually abuses and strangles women – a role not so very different from this one!) I had high expectations about his portrayal of a sociopathic and sadistic multi-millionaire Dorian Grey, but he just seemed awfully awkward in his role. As for Sam Taylor-Johnson’s direction: I think that she did what she could with the material that was given to her. What amazes me though is that she got involved with such a project at all, considering her past work as an artist.

The only thing that I thought was really well done was the fact that the entire film looks like a 2-hours long commercial – this film is, after all, an ode to capitalism and consumerism and the fact that it actually looks as such was a really nice touch.

The Basics:
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Written by: Kelly Marcel (based on the book by E. L. James)
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan
Running Time: 125 minutes
Year: 2015
Rating: 1