The Wolfpack [Review]

The Wolfpack is the story of the six Angulo brothers, young men who grew up cloistered in a small New York City apartment under the lock and key of their oppressive father. Part interview, part observation, part home video footage. This illuminating documentary shows us, through unprecedented access, an unsettling (to put it mildly) glimpse in to a world that most of us could scarcely hope to comprehend.

Domineering father, hippie mother, many children (all with magnificently long hair – remnants from the father, Oscar’s, Hare Krishna faith) idealistic socialist values, alcoholism, lives lived in reclusive squalor: all indicators of absurdly cult-like behaviour.

What’s so strikingly odd about the situation is the main-line access these children have to the somewhat perverse tales churned out of Hollywood. For a man so hell-bent on preventing the pervasive cling of western culture – he’s missed shielding them from such an integral part of it. But as the boys themselves profess in moments of true self-awareness, “We know the difference between movies and real life”. The painstaking transcription of entire movie scripts, the crafting of elaborate props and the recreation of stunningly accurate performances; are these pleas of captives so desperate to escape their confinement or true expression borne of oppression.

You’d think that spending the majority of your life with only the socialiation of your siblings and the works of Tarantino to keep you company, you’d turn out at the very least emotionally deficient. But what astounded me the most about these young men was their demeanor. Bright, bold, and exceptionally brave; with an emotional intelligence and self-awareness I’ve not seen in some of my more “socialised’ contemporary’s.

Their trepidation of the outside world was evident, but so was a sense of joy at discovering the world around them for the first time. From images of them strolling through the streets of New York –  Reservoir Dogs incarnate – “The Wolfpack” a gang in their own right (interestingly enough, this is where the Director first encountered them). To the starkly contrasting sight of them running through the orchard, a picture of true child-like innocence and wonder, gleeful smiles plastered on their faces.

The father stays absent for most of the film, locked away from the prying eyes of the camera. A malevolent force, lying in wait, like Nosferatu or something equally elusive and sinister. When we do finally meet him, it’s on his own terms, as he offers us a meek explanation for the situation in which his family finds itself. His broken English and the moderately condescending subtitles that accompany it, show a caricature of remorse and somewhat of an explanation – if not a rehearsed excuse – of how this all came to pass.  Seemingly well-meant but so glaringly lacking in substantial rationale, a man so lost and disconnected from a life that continues to play on around him.

Are we meant to feel pity for him? Anger? Grief? I do not know. As his son so succinctly put it “There are some things you just cannot forgive“.

Director Crystal Moselle could have exposed this situation for what it was, a cautionary tale of a social experiment gone bizarrely wrong. Instead she portrays a family, banded together to overthrow the suffocation under intense patriarchal control. Young men so willing to prove they can not only survive, but thrive. I can’t help but think that so much was left out of the Angulo’s story, the truly horrifying dark aspects, the delicate treatment of such material points at Moselle’s hesitance to delve deeper in to their predicament.

This film is a perpetrator of polarising internal conflict. That makes you question what it means to be loved, what it means to grow up and come in to oneself in the 21st century and the power of film and music to vividly paint the colours on what could of been a frighteningly gray and barren canvas of existence. It’s a story of fear, hope, resilience and ultimately forgiveness (not necessarily given).

A stunning exploration of a terrifically taboo topic; sometimes funny, sometimes sad and at times utterly profound. A stark reminder that we are all products of our upbringing, trying to escape the short-comings of our experiences and the eternal hope that pushes our lives so resol

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