Friday, June 12, 2015

“The Wolfpack”– Movie Review



This week, I attended the opening night screening of the new documentary “The Wolfpack” at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center.


When half a dozen brothers are raised by their father as shut-ins, what impact will this have on their personal development?


There are millions of stories in The Big City, but perhaps none stranger than that of The Angulos.  The Peruvian father, a once-devout Hare Krishna follower, married an American woman whom he met while she vacationed in South America; they moved to New York City and had seven children -- one daughter, the rest sons.  He named each of them with words from the Sanskrit language.  As someone who was against working for a living because he felt that it made you a slave to society, the big plan was to eventually move to Scandinavia, a country whose government would be able to support his lifestyle choice.  However, when he was never able to scrape together enough money to travel there, the family wound up living in the squalor of a low income housing project.

As if things weren’t strange enough, the father developed acute paranoia, which was further fueled by his alcoholism.  Fearing for the well-being of his family, he home-schooled all of the children and refused to allow them go outside.  In a good year, they might go out on a family excursion as many as nine times -- mostly during the summer; there was one year, however, when they never went outside at all.  The way the brothers dealt with their forced confinement was to escape into the fantasy world of movies; they managed to amass an extensive DVD collection of well-known films, including classics as well as commercial hits. 

The boys wound up re-enacting scenes from the movies they loved most; they transcribed the screenplays, made their own costumes and props and videotaped scenes from “Reservoir Dogs”, “The Dark Knight” and many others.  Feeling particularly claustrophobic, one of the older brothers snuck outside; unfortunately, he got picked up by the police because he ventured out wearing a fright mask from a well-known horror film.  Taken to a hospital, he was assigned a social worker who then worked with his siblings as well.  Upon returning to his family, he realized he no longer wanted to obey his father and went outside with increasing frequency, eventually joined by his brothers.  But would these boys be able to adapt to a modern society completely unfamiliar to them?  


What remains so remarkable about “The Wolfpack” is the fact that despite the bizarre upbringing these children have survived, they have all turned out to be seemingly well-adjusted.  They are intelligent, thoughtful and articulate.  Escaping into a rich fantasy life through movie viewing apparently is what helped them keep their sanity; they explored their own creative urges, which in turn was the glue holding them together.  That they were eventually able to think and act independently and ultimately evade the manipulative stranglehold their father had on them is nothing short of triumphant. 

The movie is flawed, however, because of choices made by the filmmaker.  One example is the fact that the brothers exist anonymously -- whenever one of them speaks on-screen, there is never a graphic to identify which one is talking.  There are also other scenes that are somewhat head-scratching.  When the brothers go to a theater for the first time, did they buy their own ticket or was it purchased for them by someone else (e.g., the filmmaker)?  The family has an extremely limited income so it’s hard to understand how all of these boys could not only afford the tickets but also the snacks we see them enjoying.  Susanne, the mother, makes a call to her mother on a cell phone; it appears they haven’t spoken in quite some time.  Her 88 year old mother makes plans to visit them in New York City.  Did she ever make it there?  Was that Susanne’s cell phone?  Why had they not spoken in so long?

Following the screening was a question and answer session between the audience and the documentary’s director Crystal Moselle, who was joined by the brothers and their mother.  Moselle said that she got the idea for the documentary when she was walking down First Avenue in Manhattan one day and saw the brothers on the street, all dressed alike; after gaining their trust, they invited her into their home to shoot the movie.  The shoot was conducted over a period of several years, Moselle said, because she specifically wanted to show the brothers’ development that took place over a long term. 


The Wolfpack (2015) on IMDb

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