I've read rather cynical comments on imdb.com of the sort that attempt to trivialize and dismiss this film as some sort of contrived hybrid of Little Miss Sunshine x Into The Wild. But those comments just tell me that some people aren’t able to see beyond the surface of things. Superficially, yes, the movie does feature a bus, some woods, and a carcass, but its themes are substantially different. I will say, however, that like another famous backwater family, The Waltons, this one is quite easy to fall in love with, and even on a superficial level, I really enjoyed watching this film just getting to know them. These are not the types of characters we often see in film, sadly. Furthermore, the film treats the topic of parenting, which can be touchy, with such sensitivity and respect that it doesn't hit one false note. It's one of the best films I've seen in a while.
I've actually been wanting to see this movie ever since I read the one star review posted at rogerebert.com. My impression, without having seen the movie at that point, was that the reviewer was so uncomfortable with the lifestyle being depicted in this film that her review essentially became an inflamed defense of western capitalism. Now, having seen the movie, I am quite certain that the reviewer was wrong in being so defensive. To those who might be wary of being preached at by this film for their modern ways of consumption, I would suggest putting down your defenses, because this is really not a film about scoring points for one side or the other. The film is actually quite balanced in terms of depicting both viewpoints with respect and tolerance. I didn’t feel at all that the side of western capitalism, represented by the in-laws, was treated like caricature, but were rather portrayed sympathetically. Similarly, I felt the film was very open and honest in depicting the father’s character faults and the dangers of living a too quixotic lifestyle. Viewers are really missing the point if they focus on this clash of ideologies as the centerpiece of the film.
The film does use this conflict between these two polarizing ideologies to set the stage for its characters to navigate some incredibly morally tortuous predicaments. In my opinion, these are the most fascinating kinds of film, because they ask us to think. But it wouldn't work if we couldn't relate to these characters on some level, and the film succeeds in showing us how these dilemmas transcend our differences. Regardless of their ideologies, everyone should be able to relate to rebelling against their parents’ authority as adolescents, and parents should also be able to relate to at times questioning and doubting their own parenting skills. The clash of ideologies simply sets a novel context in which to tell these timeless stories. In my opinion, the heart of this film is found in the relationship between father (played with sublime complexity by Viggo Mortensen) and eldest son, played by George MacKay. Consider, for example, how the first scene sets up one of the film’s most poignant themes, where the father tells his son after a successful hunt that today he has become a man. This relationship is slyly inverted towards the end of the film.
The ending of the film, without giving anything away, really took me by surprise, because on the one hand it is so obvious what is the "right" thing to do, and on the other hand, what we know about human nature tells us that it is the most difficult thing for a man to do. I’m reminded of something written by the late Roger Ebert, about what made him cry at the movies. It wasn't sappiness or tragedy, but rather hope and goodness, because these are qualities that are so truly rare. "What I experience is the welling up of a few tears in my eyes," he wrote, "a certain tightness in my throat, and a feeling of uplift: Yes, there is a good person, doing a good thing."
I rarely write reviews on movies. This one twisted something in my heart that makes me want to speak up.
This film reminds me of my own childhood and the struggle to find a place in the world.
I was raised by former hippies who took a sharp turn into a fundamentalist Christian cult. We mostly lived at the fringes of society, but both my parents gave me gifts (strange and out-of-step though they were) that have helped me carve something unique in a mostly homogenous world.
I loved the sense of tribal camaraderie, discipline, and rugged code of honor in this film. I also identified with the pain of the intense, sincere young man (the oldest son) as he came to realize that he was good enough to make it in "normal" society, but that he would also stand out like a parakeet among sparrows.
This film is inspiring because of its reminder that we are all unique if we choose to be, and that we have a right to pursue that singular shape of ourselves to the ends of the earth--society be damned if need be.
Jacob Nordby author Blessed Are the Weird - A Manifesto for Creatives
What a gem. The trailer doesn't hardly offer what the film delivers. Just too much to admire. The various manifestations of love, the dialectic, citizenship, the cost of a point of view -- any point of view, the kinds of reality, the necessity of truth, the sacredness of death, the limitations of clarity, the bounty of the unknown, and the wildness a heart can ride -- all explored, sussed, framed, and power driven into the viewer's everything.
Bring a box of tissues, but it's not about the tears.
Warning: acting is perfect -- you will get sucked in, you will care, you will have true experiences.
Why didn't this film receive more accolades? It was amazing. I'm a film aficionado and this is truly one of the best I've ever seen. I can't believe I almost didn't see it, it came across my screen as a total fluke. It moved me to tears repeatedly, a story told realistically with top notch acting across the board. The script is just phenomenal and production is highest value. Mortensen delivers an incredible performance. I'm speechless that anyone could think this as anything less than the masterpiece that it is. They say true art makes you feel things - this made me FEEL. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie.
Solid acting and a thought provoking screenplay. It's difficult to walk away feeling that either view of the path that the main character has chosen for his family is a clear winner. On one hand we see that he may selfishly chosen an unconventional life to the possible detriment of his kids. On the other you can't help but admire the results.
I think this film is great! Didn't know what to expect and it delivered the best. I had a wonderful father myself and this father in the film reminded me of my own. This story hit my heart and my intellect. I recommend this one.
While you might not agree with every or even any aspect of the lives these characters lead, it showed so much insight into the the joys, worries, fears, and reasons beyond those that choose to live a different way. While this was an extreme example of what home schooling can look like, it really drove home that education isn't about school and standardized tests. It really touched on topics that are both the reasons people love to home school or live off grid, and the fears that such a life presents when viewed by those that feel everyone should have to do things the same way. There was so much about this movie to love, raw emotion that made me cry, and moments of victory that made me cheer!