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June 20, 2017

The Wolfpack

by Franz Patrick


Wolfpack, The (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

“The Wolfpack” is a documentary that belongs under the category of too strange to be believed. The film offers a fascinating look into the Angulo family where the seven brothers, ranging from eleven to eighteen years of age, have been confined in their homes for almost a decade and a half. At one point, when asked how often they are allowed to step outside their apartment in Lower East Side, New York, one of the boys claims that he can remember going outside up to nine times a year, sometimes once a year—and during other years, they stay indoors at all times.

One wonders what is really going on in their home. I was especially sensitive to signs of abuse. There is a lot of deeply-rooted anger coming from the boys, especially the elder ones. This is why Mukunda’s story of sneaking outside wearing a Michael Myers mask while his father buys groceries stands out. There is no reenactment: just his words, expressions, and those eyes. Because his words and emotions are so vivid, we get sucked into his memory. It makes sense that he wishes to be a storyteller through film. Watch him closely as he recollects both a freeing and painful memory—reliving it all over again, the joys and wounds still fresh.

One gets the impression that these sheltered subjects are actually fun to be around—not just some weirdos with no social skills. Although, admittedly, three or four of them look incredibly alike (each of them sporting waist-long hair doesn’t help), each of them has a personality. Ironically, these distinct personalities truly come alive when they perform scenes from their favorite movies—props and all—right down to the precise dialogue. Quentin Tarantino, whose scripts tend to have a specific rhythm and attitude, would be impressed. I was amused and impressed by the boys’ creativity, enthusiasm, and love for film.

The picture is also about the mother. Particularly memorable is when she admits to camera that her children essentially living in a prison is not the living situation she had envisioned when she decided to marry her husband. She wanted her children to be free, to frolic and play in the green fields, to be one with nature. This was important to her because she was born and raised in the Midwest and she felt that they, too, should have that wonderful childhood. Contrast her hopes and dreams to where they are living, I felt for her. When I looked at her face, I felt moved. Like her children, she, too, is angry. But, for the sake of her children, she tries not to show it. I admired her strength.

What the picture lacks is a father’s perspective that is clearly defined. Although Crystal Moselle, the director, tries to get Oscar’s point of view and why he felt the need to raise his children in such an environment, a lot of it does not quite register. One reason is that he is a drunk. It is probably wiser to not trust his words completely. And because interviews with him are so uncommon, it is all the more difficult to dissect and separate the truths from the half-truths.

“The Wolfpack” engages the viewer because it is increasingly apparent that we are dropping in on a family that needs a lot of healing. One of the memorable images involves the siblings giving their mother a hug before leaving their apartment to go see a movie in a theater for the very first time… while their father stands right next to her, the boys completely ignoring him as if he weren’t even there.

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