The film is called Captain Fantastic. [My sincere thanks to the reader who gave me a heads up about this.]
It’s available via Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Without totally spoiling the film, I want to talk about it a little bit. The film centers around a homeschooling isolated family and a funeral, and that’s all I’m going to say about the film itself, other than recommending it and mentioning that it is not based on any true story. It’s entirely fictional and almost ludicrously exaggerated.
Right after Nathan died, his best friend, PJ Garrett, told us that he wanted to quit his job and travel. His wife was an RN and had looked into being a traveling nurse (doing short term stints at various hospitals around the country). They bought an RV and hit the road.
In August of the following year, we were in our RV camped in Tennessee and got a phone call from PJ’s wife. He was in the hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, in renal failure. He needed a kidney transplant. He was about 32 years old then.
This wasn’t because of his lifestyle or diet. It was because he had high blood pressure that had proved to be almost impossible to treat effectively. He’d been on medication for several years, but had little success in getting it down and it finally just wore his kidneys out.
I got PJ on the phone and asked him if he wanted us to come out there.
He went silent for a couple of minutes and then said, “I don’t want to ask you to do that.”
I replied, “I didn’t ask that. I asked if you wanted us to come.”
Another long pause, and then a very quiet, “Yes.”
We left that evening and drove to Phoenix, in August. You have to understand that only love will take you to Phoenix in August in an RV.
We spent a month or so out there with them. We were there as PJ learned to manage his peritoneal dialysis and his diet. He was simply an amazing person.
On August 22, which was the anniversary of Nathan’s death, he dragged us out for the day. We went to Sedona and then up to Flagstaff, and he did dialysis in the car on the road while driving, causing me to have heart palpitations, but he handled it like a champ.
And then we went our separate ways, physically, except for a couple of weeks the following year when he visited us at our place in Kentucky. But we talked on the phone regularly.
On April 30, 2010, I got an urgent message from his sister to call his mother immediately. I was afraid to punch in the number, because I just knew it wasn’t good.
That morning, PJ, who had separated from his wife by then, and was living at his parents’ home preparing for a kidney transplant, had left his job to run an errand for his employer. We’ll never know exactly what happened, but he came around a curve and hit a transfer truck head on. He died on the scene, probably instantly. He was 34.
Dave and I made immediate plans to head for North Carolina, where he was. His mother, who is very religious, assured me that she was planning to have the funeral outdoors in the field next door to her church.
PJ Garrett was an atheist.
When Nathan died, he helped us plan the memorial that we had in Raleigh, North Carolina, and he arranged the one in Southern Pines several weeks later all by himself. This was no small task. It involved getting the police to literally close off an entire street for the evening, as well as coordinating a sound guy and all the various musicians who performed and arranging for advertising.
He told me that he and some of Nate’s friends were concerned about what Dave and I would do when we arrived from Alaska. They were afraid that we were going to have a conventional church funeral and they were gearing up for a big fight. PJ said that if we’d attempted it, he would have gone to the church and personally removed Nate all by himself if he’d had to, but that no church funeral was happening. That is how strongly he felt about it.
After the memorials, Dave and I and PJ and his wife went to Wilmington, NC and took some of Nate’s ashes out on the pier and put them in the ocean.
So, we basically had three different memorial times for Nathan with PJ.
Then we drove to North Carolina to attend PJ’s funeral.
And when we got there, we discovered that we’d been conned.
There was no outdoor funeral. The excuse given was that it was threatening rain, but it never rained a drop. Funerals are used by very religious people as a ploy to get people into church so they can be preached at. I know this. I recognized it when I saw it.
This was a conventional Baptist funeral in a Baptist church with a preacher who didn’t know PJ, along with all sorts of bullshit about how much PJ loved Jesus and how you too should come to Jesus so you can live forever with PJ.
I refused to enter the church. I simply could not do it. The only thing his parents did do that he would have wanted is have him cremated. Other than that, it was everything he was afraid we would do to Nathan, and I was powerless to prevent it. I know that his parents were coping in the only way they knew how to cope. I know that in order to keep their worldview intact, they had to turn PJ into a Christian. I watched my mother do the same thing when Nathan died, so I understand it, but I couldn’t participate in the charade.
So we waited in the parking lot, sitting in our car, until the damn thing was over and then some of his friends came with us to the scene of the accident where we had our own little memorial time, and afterward we went to the bar where he’d had the memorial for Nate, and had drinks and cried.
If you watch the movie, you’ll understand why I bring this up.
There’s a part of me that empathizes so completely with the father in this movie. I get what he was attempting to do for his children. I understood when he read the will in the church.
I also understand the grandparents and their horror at all of it. I cringed as the kids struggled to interact with their peers. I also noticed how comfortable they were with each other and how uncomfortable they were with outsiders.
Even if the parents actually educate their kids and provide things like shelter and medical care for them, is the isolation in and of itself harmful? Surely different isn’t bad, provided the child knows what the rest of the world sees as normal.
Watch it and see what you think.