What happens if a group of people is raised in a hermetic space, essentially locked away from the rest of the world but not from the world of film? The intense and fascinating documentary The Wolfpack (2015, Crystal Moselle) provides the answer to that very question by opening a window into a mid-sized apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which until recently represented – more or less – the whole world to the six Angulo brothers, their parents and their sister.
Oscar Angulo, the Peruvian Hare Krishna patriarch of the Angulo family, locked his whole growing family away from the world, to – in his own words – protect them from the dangerous world outside, imposing his beliefs on his home-schooled offspring and his wife Susanne. While it is ‘easy’ to diagnose him as an egotistical megalomaniac, Susanne remains a mystery even after the documentary is long finished: it is obvious that she is a strong woman, since she has functioned as a well of sanity and an anchor for her children, and yet she went along with the caged existence of a growing family. Oscar’s heart was set on having ten children, in the likeness of his role model deity, Krishna, but nature called it ends at seven: six boys and one girl.
The boys, with their divine Sanskrit names, long-haired beauty, film-loving hearts and intelligent eyes, are both a delight and a pain to watch. A pain, because they were locked away with all of their potential, but also a delight, because maybe also because of their seclusion, their thinking flowered and expanded in many ways that today’s society would walk all over.
What really catches the heart of the audience is the place where our two worlds meet: in the cinematic dreamscape. Oscar Angulo did everything to block their contact with the outside world, but allowed and even encouraged their ventures into the world of film. The little apartment gained new dimensions with the Angulo brothers watching, rewatching and even staging their favourite films. It makes sense that – being avid Tarantino fans – their outdoor outfit style perfectly matches that of their favourite cinematic alter-egos from the Reservoir Dogs (1992, Tarantino). And so – while being careful at the beginning, when we first enter their world and have some difficulty accepting the kinks and bends of their reality – falling in love with the brothers who love film so earnestly suddenly becomes the most natural thing to do, even as our concern grows, since their love of film has a distinctive edge of desperation that can only come from the fundamental need to escape the limitations of their own environment.
That is why we feel with them and root for their freedom when the walls of their cage begin to crumble – after all, like in every other closed-in and strictly controlled society, rebellion is only a matter of time. Led by the oldest brother, Mukunda, who is the first to disregard Oscar’s rules, the family slowly starts to venture outside – not without a hitch, but with documentary still ending on a high note.
Crystal Moselle struck gold when she chanced upon the Angulo family story, and she managed to disclose and shape it into a truly well-put-together documentary. Instead of choosing a more distant and objective approach while filming, she also created an air of familiarity, occasionally even taking part in the conversation, which gives the audience a more intimate insight into the life of the Angulo family. While the older brothers and Susanne were the most responsive, she eventually also managed to capture Oscar Angulo’s testimony, which rounds up the documentary. She also used occasional inserts from the Angulo family’s own videos to provide an extra dimension or two to the Angulo puzzle. This makes the documentary very engaging, as well as well worth watching.
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos: © 2015 – Magnolia Pictures