Structure Breakdowns: “Captain Fantastic”

Cap Fantastic


Another independent gem from last year was Captain Fantastic places absolute and unquestioned faith in its free-wheeling stance. The story has strong ideas backed up by an even stronger conviction in its wholly unique belief system. It doesn’t exactly stick the landing, but it has a refreshing sense of ambition.

LOGLINE: Ben Cash, a single father lives deep in the Pacific Northwest where he raises six children on his own. When the kids’ bipolar mother Leslie commits suicide, Ben must rally his family together to say good-bye to their mother before they all fall apart.



Ben, 50, a narcissist father who wants to protect his family and raise them to be like him.

What is the main character’s INITIAL WANT?

He wants to raise his children to be individualists outside of society.

What is the INCITING INCIDENT that sets the story in motion?

Ben learns that the kids’ mother killed herself.

After the Inciting Incident, what is the main character’s CONFLICTED WANT? 

Ben wants to ignore “the real world” and keep his family isolated, but the kids want to know make plans for their mothers’ funeral.

Who are the FRIENDS/FOES with whom the main character debates his/her choice? 

– Friends: Ben and the kids have each other.
– Foes:
Harper, Ben’s sister-in-law; Jack and Leslie, Ben’s father and mother-in-law.

What SKILLS, TALENTS and DEFICIENCIES does the main character have?

– Skills/Talents: Principled, self-sufficient, loving father.

– Deficiencies: Narcissistic, out of touch with reality, oblivious to his children’s needs.

What does is the CLEAR WANT that the main character has…?

To bury his wife Leslie and say good-bye to her in the way that she wanted.

What ACTION CHOICE does the main character make to obtain his/her want?

He disregards his in-laws wishes and wants to take the kids to their mother’s funeral.


The New World (Act II):

Who are the ALLIES the main character encounters?

– Mentor Figure: As a loner, Ben doesn’t really have one.

– Mirror Figure:  Ben’s oldest son, Bo.

– Minor Figures: The rest of the kids in the family.

Who are the ENEMIES the main character encounters?

Harper, Ben’s sister-in-law; and various people from “society” who impinge upon Ben and the family.

Who is the ANTAGONIST who prevents the main character from achieving his/her goal?

The antagonist is society (Man vs Society), as Ben has choses a totally different way of living.  The ultimate embodiment of said society is in the character of Ben’s father-in-law Jack who refuses to let Ben have Leslie’s body to be cremated.

Who or what is the WANTED OBJECT in this story?

Ben’s wife Leslie’s body.  Ben and the kids want to cremate her while Leslie’s parents want a “proper” funeral.

What is the MIDPOINT SHIFT that allow the main character to take effective action?

Ben realizes that his way of life may not be the best thing for his kids and he needs to find a way to help them deal with their mother’s death.

The Brave World (Act III):

Based on the main character’s epiphany what ACTION COURSE does s/he take?

He tries to take the kids back to his isolationist ways and move past his wife’s death.

What action does the antagonist take to create the RISING CONFLICT?

Now that the kids have had a taste of “normal life,” they realize how weird their father is and the long for more of the comforts of a normal existence.


As they prepare to attend their mother’s funeral, the kids all realize how much they do not fit in with the rest of the world; so they rebel against their father’s wishes.  Ben starts to lose control of his family.

What is the PERSONAL LESSON the main character learns from this experience?

Ben realizes that his self-absorbed ways are driving his family away from him.  The kids each start to reject him in their own ways.

What is the LOWEST MOMENT in the story?

Ben realizes that the kids blame him for their mother’s death and don’t want to live with him anymore.


The Reordered World (Act IV):


How does the main character react in his/her MOMENT OF WEAKNESS?

Ben refuses to admit the error of his ways and fights with Jack, refusing to back down, .

What MOMENT OF RESILIENCE that enables the main character to continue?

When Jack threatens to call the police on Ben, Ben retreats from the house and plots how to rescue Rellian (who doesn’t want to be rescued) from Jack.

What is the FINAL ACTION CHOICE that the main character takes? 

When Ben’s daughter Vespyr falls from the roof while trying to “rescue” Rell, she needs modern medical attention.  Unable to deny the need for modern society, Ben takes all the kids to Jack’s house to stay while Vespyr is in the hospital then decides to leave them there when he returns to their home (the woods).


The kids each get to fully experience modern life through their stay at their grandparents.  Vespyr heals at the hospital.  Harper and Ben forgive each other for their differences about Leslie.

What is the CLIMAX of the story?

When the kids realize that Jack has no intention of honoring their mother’s wish to be buried, they take all the skills they’ve learned from Ben and find him in order to steal Leslie from the mortuary and cremate her body the way she wanted.

What is the CHANGE that has occurred in the world of the story?  

Ben lets Bo leave for parts unknown while the rest of the family settles into a home and has a somewhat normal life.

How is the RESOLUTION ARTICULATED at the end? 

In a normal kitchen, the family eats a normal breakfast with sugary cereal, and Ben is okay with it.

This is a charming movie, but the script has a curious twist in Act IV.  Ben’s initial want was to care for his kids in the best way possible.  In Act IV, Ben realizes that means he has to let them go, which creates the impression that he is giving up on them.  This forces the kids to take action, which turns over the agency of the plot from Ben to the kids.  Thematically, this still works because, in essence, this is Ben putting his work to the test by leaving it up to the kids to make their own decision.  Yet, to the reader/viewer, it feels like Ben has given up on reaching his goal.


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