Captain Fantastic ~ Shunyamurti Movie Night Essay

Updated: Apr 7, 2018

On Saturday nights, the Sat Yoga Ashram turns into the Sat Yoga Cinémathèque, perhaps the greatest art house cinema this side of Holy Wood. From Tarkovsky to Kubrick, from Bresson to Malick to Jodorowsky, from Hollywood to postmodern classics, the sangha gathers to explore the spiritual journey of ego dissolution and soul liberation through the lens of film. For each film, Shunyamurti offers an exquisite teaching to guide the experience in a way that will provide the deepest and most thoughtful reflections and post-movie discussions. We hope these poetic treasures will inspire you to find the sacred journey and intelligence that is hidden in the films we feature.

Opening setup: A savage tribe of white kids out of Lord of the Flies is hunting a stag. An adolescent boy jumps the unsuspecting deer and does the short work of cutting its throat. The ultra-alpha male-hunter-war chief father comes to finish off the job, slicing open the deer’s chest and pulling out its still-beating heart. He offers it to the son, who eats it. The rite of passage is complete: the boy has become a man. But has he?


This is our introduction to an extraordinary family of hyper-politically-aware beings with super powers of intelligence, physical prowess, and courage who have left behind the effete civilization of white capitalist Amerikkka, and who have created their own survivalist paradise in the remote mountain forests of Oregon and who live in happy self-sufficiency.


Except for one minor matter, that becomes the black hole of the film’s shadowy underside: the mother of this family of six children is missing. She is hospitalized far away with a mental illness, and news comes one day that she has committed suicide.


The life of the wild ones is cracked open, as they feel they must return to the fallen world of capitalist profanity to make sure she is honored properly in death. Thus the clan of super beings hits the road in an old hippie bus to re-encounter the nasty world they (at least the father) had left behind. The patriarch, played vigorously by Viggo Mortenson, as a cross between Charles Manson and Crazy Horse, who flips in mid-film into a self-doubting sad sack and later into a maternalized eunuch for the American dream, succeeds in giving this black comedy its depth of character as well as embodying the crucifixion and demise of the heroic archetype that he embodied. He reiterates the impotence of manhood to change the system.


This is indeed a fantastic film—in the sense of over-the-top cartoonish fantasy figures pretending to be real people—a family of genius-level social revolutionaries in fact—living their superior truth in your face, and every moment throwing dynamite in all directions, yet somehow never hitting a live target, never doing more than a striptease of revolution or an empty homage to Buddhism without substance or the slightest inclination to question the nature of reality, cleverly disguised as the aggressive questioning of everything, leaving nothing sacred: The revolution degraded into farcical family cult. And the great joke is that their deity is Noam Chomsky, a pseudo-revolutionary academic figure who seems to attack the system while avoiding dealing with its dark heart, or exposing the hidden truth behind any really relevant event in which consent is manufactured, such as the true nature of the 911 attack.


Extremely talented and analytically sophisticated screenwriters without political loyalties are among the highest-paid assets of the system in Hollywood. The film industry, especially the major studios, serves the ruling system as one of its most effective tools of ideological capture. All films (and all forms of public art) are political. The best films succeed in hiding their agendas, and even camouflaging them to make the apparent intentions—the bait—seem like the opposite of the hook. In fact, this is what gives the hook its power and allure. That is why skillful screenwriters are paid so well. The problem for Hollywood is that they also want to make money. So they have to satisfy the desires of the very people they want to mind-control and ridicule, while also satisfying the elite rulers of the system by ensuring that the message conforms to the party line. This requires a multi-level approach, full of tacking and twisting, so that no one can pin down exactly what the real subliminal payload contains.


The principle of bait-and-hook, bait-and-switch is the prime Machiavellian ruse that provides the mainstay of the mind control operations of governments and corporations and cinematographers throughout the modern period. But in politics proper, it often requires an actual patsy (in addition to the usual paid shills) to pull off the operation. In the recent election of Trump, for example, it was the sincere beliefs of Steve Bannon that gained the candidate his hard-core following, based on such rallying cries as “drain the swamp,” make friends with Russia, pull back from globalist empire and war, and rebuild the infrastructure and the culture of the nation. “Make America great again.” Of course, within a couple of months after victory, Bannon had been fired and removed from the scene, along with all the other true believers. The system’s loyal deep state strategists took over. The cynical stooges of the system filled the power slots. The outraged masses of the winner’s electoral base—preemptively labeled ‘deplorables’—have gone into deeper alienation. But the psy op worked to neutralize dissidence, and all was very carefully stage-managed, with plenty of red herrings and other diversions, like the meme of Russian hacking, Trump as Putin’s stooge, etc., etc. All this is elaborated only to make clear the nature of a feature film as a grand psy op, designed by those who understand how to manipulate emotions, attitudes, and unconscious frames of reference. One should never naively watch a film without understanding that one is being operated upon.


In the same way, we have been operated upon in and since childhood—and one of the chief functions of the operation was to cripple our ability to think clearly and act decisively, powerfully, and accurately—at least in certain key areas of life.

The uniqueness of this historic moment is that the ruling system no longer—since 911—feels the need to hide its technique from people. The system, by getting away with such an obvious traitorous false flag deception, has convinced itself that it can now do anything, commit any atrocity, without having to deal with an uprising in the ranks. The sheeple have become so docile that one need not hide one’s tracks. The control of the mainstream media, of nearly all the public voices, even those of the apparent opposition—like Noam Chomsky, Alex Jones, or Amy Goodman—and the willingness to use straight intimidation, cyber attacks, and termination by extreme prejudice of troublemakers who get too tiresome—makes the necessity of precise prestidigitation obsolete. Secret techniques can be revealed—even flaunted—and the sheeple are too dumbed down, frightened and impotent to threaten the mighty Wurlitzer, the giant steamroller of the system, from paving over truth with its bloody Orwellian discourse and no ears are left who dare to hear a contrarian word.


The film we are to be worked over by this evening falls into the category of major ideological snare, and might even be deserving of being named best of breed in these latter degraded days before the fall of Rome-on-the-Potomac. The screenwriter, Matt Ross, is clearly intelligent, well read, with a superiority complex. And he brags about it, by making his protagonists all larger than life in cerebral matters, as well as in levels of physical stamina, strength, and survivalist skills that turn the film into a cartoon—and for that reason take some of the sting out of its poison load as well as give him plausible deniability as to the political intentions of this “family entertainment”.


The screenplay is more intent on playing “Dare” with the audience—how far will they go, how much truth will they speak, how honestly will they address a child’s questions about human sexuality, for example—and they make it seem like there are no limits, but then it turns out that this was all another deception, and the point of the film is very conventional, safe and sentimental—not to mention, supportive of the system—after all. These people are not really concerned with living out Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. All they want is to kiss a girl, play video games and rock music and wear nike shoes like other kids, and enjoy junk food and junk thought. “Dare” is the bait, making those who dare into the obvious heroes. But then comes the hook: the chief father hero is cruel, narcissistic, psychopathic, a child abuser, an amoral criminal, a danger to his children. He is clearly unhinged, just like his late wife, who committed suicide—and who, it unfolds, may just have been driven over the edge by the hero himself. And if the hero is really a villain, or criminally insane, then all his daring beliefs and attitudes and dangerous actions are suddenly not about freedom and speaking truth to power, but simply the means of indoctrinating his helpless captive clan into his sick weird paranoid leftist survivalist nihilist cult fantasy.


The screenwriter even reveals the formula of the film within one of its well-crafted scenes. The father demands that his daughter express her critical response to the novel she is reading, which happens to be Lolita. She expresses how the writer (Nabokov), by employing first-person narration filled with moving poetic expressions of romantic love, makes one empathize with the protagonist, even though the character is engaged in an unwholesome pedophilic relationship with an underage girl. This creates a bipolar un-decidable oscillation in the thinking/feeling functions of the reader that obscures moral clarity.


This film has a slightly different agenda from that perverse novel, however. And right after the protagonist father of the film is forced to see himself from a mainstream perspective of normal capitalist values—as a result of the betrayal of two of his sons who openly desire to leave him for what the urban materialist and academic world can offer—the camera focuses on the father dealing with his defeat, the collapse of his world, the letting go of custody of his children, the loneliness of long-distance driving back to his empty forest camp in his decrepit bus, feeling he has failed everyone and must carry the burden of being a pitiful pariah whose egocentric self-inflation deserved to suffer such an ignominious fall. Here we get the hook. But we are quickly anesthetized and the hypnotic suggestion is forgotten (and thus lodged more powerfully as a splinter in the mind), as the film suddenly falls into cartoon mode again, through another howling deus ex machina, when it turns out the kids have secretly run away with him as well, and have been hiding in the bus all along. As if the bus had some hidden basement where they were sitting for hours—as if the bus were the unconscious mind that never leaves its child self behind.


The “dare” mentality reaches its apotheosis when the family stoops to engaging in nocturnal grave robbing (and of course the cemetery has no night watchman to halt the madness) to steal back the mother’s corpse to fulfill her last wishes of cremation. This is followed by a gruesome scene of necrophilic nuzzling with the mother’s corpse, again cartoonishly denying what the real condition of a cadaver a week after death would look and smell like. The film resolutely prostrates again to the lower death drive.


But there is no trace of spiritual relationship to consciousness by any member of the family, as the mother’s Buddhist commitment would seem to demand. Buddhism is just an exotic label for nihilism, for flushing her body’s ashes down the toilet. Is it not Buddhism itself that is being flushed down the memory hole? And did not the woman have to die because there was no place for the feminine—certainly not the divine feminine posited by the archetype of the Buddhist goddess, whether Tara or Quan Yin—within the dreary bloodstained phallic cult of macho survivalism purveyed by the father, that turned his daughters into hardened steel Amazons and when necessary into acrobatic cat burglars. And when the family relate in their signature mode, it is not about achieving liberation from a stultifying system, but just empty and pointless aggression against authority: “Stick it to the Man.” In terms of their political vision, there is no there there. And that is the real poison on the hook. Once again, TINA rules. There Is No Alternative. And so the idealistic revolution that will unveil the next age of humanity living by the legitimate authority of divine right disintegrates into the same dead end of history as predicted by all the pundits: the invincible capitalist materialist regime wins again, against these upstart fanatics who think they can escape from its grip. No, the system always wins.


In other words, to satisfy Hollywood, the film must end in a tame anti-climactic compromise formation, in which, in this case, the family of former savages moves into a suburban home, the once-continentally-striding war bus is now a shipwrecked chicken coop, and the once-fearsome phallic Father has morphed into the soft new Mommy, making breakfast for the kids and eating cereal and milk that he had once disdained as not being real food. Their project of radical freedom ends not with a bang or a war whoop but a contented burp and a nostalgic whimper. And yet there is one note of real transcendence: that salvific moment at the burning of the mother’s body when the girls take the lead and sing out their heart-leaping song of love that redeems them all. Yet it is that very victory of undying love that leads to the clan’s domestication.


All this results from accepting the premises of the system, which predetermine that only the system is truly attuned to the needs of the human ego. And the film never asks if there is any consciousness beyond the ego. It unquestioningly accepts the limits of language, of cause and effect, of pre-quantum thinking, with no possibility of divine intervention, other-dimensional realities intersecting with the phenomenal plane, the de-collapse of the quantum wave function, or a coherent signal from beyond that could transmute the planetary field of morphic resonance. In other words, the film rejects the magic potency promised by quantum Buddhist understanding to those who enter deeply enough into the secret interior of pure awareness. The script remains resolutely on the surface of imaginary existence. The symbolic is only a cardboard backdrop for cheap political expediency. And there is no Real except dead bodies, whether of deer or mothers, and we are to live within the lonely oscillation of life and death, without complaint or interest in what may lie beyond the matrix.


May your viewing of this film empower you to go beyond all limits—and become the true Captains Fantastic—not to mention avatars and angels, magi and miracle-makers, goddesses and gods—that the system cannot even imagine could appear and lead the true celestial revolution that the Buddha Mind is generating—and that is already underway.


Namaste, Shunyamurti

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