Thursday, July 16, 2015

One more recommendation

The Wolfpack (dir. Crystal Moselle, 2015) tells the story of the Angulo family: father (from Peru), mother (from Indiana), six sons, one daughter, living on public assistance, in public housing, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The father doesn’t want his children damaged by contact with the world, so he keeps them, and his wife, inside. The daughter suffers from an unexplained malady. All the children have Sanskrit names. The sons fill their days with movies provided by their father (one son estimates 5,000 movies), watching, and watching, and then transcribing, rehearsing, and filming favorite scenes, with props and costumes made from whatever materials they can muster. On occasion the sons are able to sneak outside — one or two or more times a year, sometimes not at all. But one son defies his father’s rule and ventures openly into the city. His brothers begin to follow. Out for a walk, they run into Crystal Moselle, who befriends them and begins to learn their story.

The Wolfpack is well worth seeing. The Angulo brothers’ seriousness of purpose, their joy in their endeavors, their fidelity to the films they reënact — it’s all moving and inspiring to see. The imagination will find a way, this film tells us, even in a miserable, locked-up apartment ruled by a two-bit dictator. But the long history of family dysfunction underwriting this state of affairs is left largely unexplored. So many questions, not just unanswered but unasked. Manohla Dargis’s Times review, which points out that “no laws seem to have been broken” in raising these children, is too breezy by half. I would like to know how paterfamilias Oscar Angulo (who speaks for the camera on several occasions) reconciles his wish to protect his children with a diet of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. I would like to know whether his wife Susanne (who also speaks for the camera) ever thought of getting away. I would at least like to know how the brothers came by costumes and props and video equipment. I know the filmmaker has only ninety minutes. But still.

What most struck me in The Wolfpack: as the brothers begin to make their way into the world, their frames of reference are from film, and only film. Out on a walk: “This is like 3-D, man!” There is joy but also tragedy in that exclamation. I wish the Angulo brothers well as they continue learning their way into that world.

Here is the the film’s official site. And here is an article from People (of all places) that asks and answers a few questions that the film leaves unexplored.

comments: 2

Geo-B said...

This would seem to fall somewhere between 'the forbidden experiment' and Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle: a Memoir. The "forbidden experiment" is that idea of linguists about what would develop is you simply didn't teach a child language, which is an interesting question but also severe child abuse. In the Walls book, she and her siblings were raised by highly eccentric parents who would move them all across the country at the drop of a hat, with no warning. As I read it, I thought the kids must have assumed the parents were somewhat "normal" and knew what they were doing. My kids came home from being born and lived in the same house until they went off to college, a time span of which I lived in 10 houses in 4 states. Until I was 14, my father worked in top secret weapons development, so we didn't talk about what he did. As I grew older, it dawned one that most kids don't know exactly what their parents do. I don't know if it's true, but I heard once that kids from happy families are happy to move out since they see the world as positive and welcoming, while kids from dysfunctional households are hesitant, because they see the world as correspondingly threatening. The Wolfpack seems unfortunate and extreme and speaks to the resilience of humans, but brings up: oh yikes, what have I done to my kids?

Michael Leddy said...

I thought of the story of Genie, the young girl kept in a dark room away from almost all human contact. Another controlling father.

Your observation about how children see the world beyond home should be food for thought for all who read it.