Ben and Leslie Cash live largely off the grid with their offspring — Bodevan, Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai — in a cabin in the mountains of Washington state. The parents have passed their socialist and survivalist ideals to their children. Ben considers most of Western society to be fascist, especially corporate America. He also believes that no one will or should be there for you, so you’d better learn how to take care of yourself. As such, the children have been subject to vigorous physical training; know how to deal with minor bumps, bruises, cuts, sprains, and even fractures; and know how to hunt, forage, and grow their own food. The children are also non-registered home schooled, meaning that they have no official academic records. Ben and Leslie have tried to make the children critical thinkers, however, within the context of their ideals. Beyond these issues, Ben and Leslie made the decision to live this lifestyle for Leslie’s health. Formerly an attorney, Leslie was diagnosed as bipolar. Ben believes that this disorder started with her postpartum depression with Bo. Yet Leslie’s condition has worsened. Despite not believing in Western medicine, Ben sends Leslie to a hospital close to Ben’s sister, Harper, so that there can be family close by. While hospitalized, Leslie commits suicide. Beyond the collective grief, Leslie’s act brings out a battle between Ben and Leslie’s father, Jack Bertrang, a Christian who not only blames Ben for Leslie’s death, but believes that what he is doing “to” the children can legally be considered abuse. Jack takes over the funeral arrangements as per his and his complacent wife Abby’s Christian morals, against what Ben knows was Leslie’s wishes, as she believed in Buddhist philosophies. Although Jack threatens to call the police if Ben shows up to the funeral, Ben and the children believe it is their mission to honor Leslie’s last wishes to be cremated as per Buddhist philosophy. This mission not only may bring the divide between Jack and Ben to a head, but may also bring out some long dormant issues between the Cash children as they are exposed to commercial America in all its good and bad, and as Bo grows into manhood, he may have his own ideas of what he should do with the next phase of his life.—Huggo
At a screening in San Francisco, Matt Ross revealed that over the course of filming, the group of children came to call Viggo Mortensen “Summer Dad”.