Since their inception, movies have always represented a way to escape reality. Be it the drudgery of every day or the horrors of wartime, flickering images in the dark have always imagined a better place, somewhere out there, over the rainbow and straight on ‘til morning.
The divisive documentary from Crystal Moselle, The Wolfpack, opening this Friday at the Landmark Chez Artiste, explores this phenomenon in a very literal sense. The six Angulo Brothers have been imprisoned in their New York apartment since birth and are rarely allowed to leave thanks to their paranoid and totalitarian father. With little else to do, their attention turned to the television and the images it smuggled in from the outside world. Simply loving those images was not enough; a relationship was established, and the Angulo’s took to re-creating those very images.
The background to this home confinement is an odd one, as the Angulo’s Peruvian father is anti-establishment, anti-capitalist, anti-government, and on and on. That was the thinking that most likely lured the Angulo’s American mother into going along with the original plan (herself just as much a captive), but if there were any real motives for keeping their children away from the world, they have died off and been replaced by a hard-drinking, abusive, and controlling patriarch.
The brothers grew up in this cramped apartment together, each one receiving a Sanskrit name (Bhagavan, Govinda, Jagadisa, Krsna, Mukunda, Narayana) from their father and homeschooling from their mother (government stipends is how they pay the bills). Unfortunately, Moselle does not identify any of the boys by name, and since they are all roughly the same age, with the same angular face and waist-length black hair, identifying each one—particularly in old home movies—is an impossible task.
But Moselle isn’t interested in them individually; she views them and frames them as a pack. A pack robbed of the outside and forced to turn inward and escape within their imagination. Cinema fuels that imagination, and it shaped the Angulos’ world. Of all the movies the Angulos gravitate to, they seem to identify most strongly with Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, as well as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. The brothers re-create these movies, line by line, shot by shot, re-enacting them and shooting them with incredible creativity (they make an impressive bat-suit out of cereal boxes and yoga mats) and devotion. Hunter S. Thompson did something similar as a young man, copying Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, word for word, punctuation for punctuation, letting the prose seep into his fingers and percolate his mind. The technique worked wonders for Thompson, and as Moselle suggests, it might do the same for the Angulos.
However, whatever success awaits the Angulos as filmmakers, it is not equally shared by Moselle. Premiering at this past Sundance Film Festival, The Wolfpack divided critics and viewers alike between the movie’s content and the movie’s quality. The material speaks volumes to those who spend their lives in darkened places before flickering images, but The Wolfpack is an amateurish movie at best, one that is only of note because of its fascinating subjects. Considering that The Wolfpack looks at the profound power images can hold over the viewer, it is a pity that The Wolfpack comes up short trying to capture and articulate that in a visual manner.
The Wolfpack (2015)
Directed by: Crystal Moselle
Produced by: Hunter Gray, Crystal Moselle, Alex Orlovsky, Izabella Tzenkova
Starring: Bhagavan Angulo, Govinda Angulo, Jagadisa Angulo, Krsna, Mukunda Angulo, Narayana Angulo
Magnolia Pictures, Rated R, Running time 80 minutes, Opens June 19, 2015.