Tribeca Film Festival 2015: The Wolfpack

The_Wolfpack

On the Lower East Side of Manhattan lives the Angulo family, six brothers ages 16 to 23, one daughter, the diminutive mother Susanne, and the overbearing father Oscar. When they moved into the apartment in 1995, Oscar decided the city was not safe, and he would not allow his children to leave the apartment without his permission. Sometimes they would leave the apartment once or twice a year, as some of the older brothers remember, and one year, they never left the apartment at all. Homeschooled by their mother, the children had almost no contact with the outside world, and their only means to learn about the outside world was through their father’s extensive movie collection.

The six brothers Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Krisna, and Jagadesh became obsessed with movies, particularly the work of Quentin Tarantino. They started acting out scenes from their favorite movies, Reservoir Dogs being a favorite because it had enough parts for everyone. Soon, they were constructing their own costumes and props, making Batman’s suit out of a yoga mat and cereal boxes, and stacks of entire scripts that they transcribed piled up. Where the film gets its title, however, is the moment when the boys stopped playing fictional characters and ventured out into the real world. At first, it was just Mukunda, wandering the streets of the Lower East Side and wearing a Michael Myers mask so he wouldn’t be recognized by his father, but the brothers quickly agreed it was safer to explore this new world together, as a pack.

Out of all the films in the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, The Wolfpack is the one I have thought about the most and the longest since first seeing it. The story of the Angulo brothers sounds too crazy to be true, but it is, and the day that director Crystal Moselle ran into the Angulo brothers on the streets of New York City was lucky for her, to put it mildly. The fact that Moselle earned the Angulo’s trust and was invited into their home, the first non-family member to ever be invited, is what great documentary filmmaking is all about.

One of the reasons why the film is so memorable, though, is because it is deeply disturbing. Oscar is an abusive patriarch. There is no other word to describe his behavior, locking up seven growing children in an apartment without letting them go outside for months or years. The Angulo children had years and essential life experiences stolen from them, and it is unclear what kind of treatment the daughter Visnu, who has Turner’s Syndrome, is receiving.

Their movie re-enactments are entertaining to be sure. The Angulo boys are imaginative and endlessly resourceful. As more is revealed about the Angulo’s lives, however, these re-enactments become less charming and more uncomfortable and sad. It is clear that their obsession for movies stems at least partially from their need for human connection that is being denied. This isn’t even addressing that these boys are clearly taking their social cues (and obviously their fashion) from Tarantino movies. Just imagine growing up in a home where the models of love and commitment are a dysfunctional dominate-submissive relationship or the fantasies of Hollywood.

Fortunately, the story of the Angulo brothers has a happy ending of sorts. They pushed back against their father. Their mother Susanne was inspired to make changes in her life, whether Oscar liked it or not. All six of the brothers are now able to explore their world and find themselves, and after what they lived through, they deserve all the best in life. My only worry is that the success of The Wolfpack (and it will be a massive success) is the media attention on this family. These kids have already had an abnormal life so far, and no doubt they still have issues to work through. Hopefully in the midst of all this attention, these brothers will look to each other and lean on each other, and they have good people, including Crystal Moselle, looking out for them.

May
26
2015
Rachel Kolb • Staff Writer

I love movies, writing, and breaking into song in public. You can follow me on Twitter @rachelekolb or check out more of my work at http://rachelekolb.wordpress.com.

Popular

New Reviews