The Wolfpack, directed by Crystal Moselle, released June 2015, is about a bizarre family’s survival in Manhattan’s lower east side.
The survival wasn’t about the neighborhood, though—it’s about the Angulo family being dominated by their South American Aztec father, who thought himself an omniscient God, dominating by word, by hand, and always by key, the only key—his—to a cramped four-bedroom apartment. He believed his job was to disassociate his family from society and its ills, keeping his family locked away from all human contact except for each other’s. For almost fifteen years Mr. Angulo did this with seven children, six boys and one girl, the youngest. During the course of a year they left the apartment a handful of times—nine times, the most, in one year, zero another year. On those occasions the children were strictly escorted, and they were never allowed to go outside in winter.
Named in ancient Sanskrit, Govinda, Bhagavan, Mukunda, Jagadisa, Krsna, and Naravana, were part of a tribe their hippie dad, who wanted ten children like Vishnu, was trying to create. Their mother, who home-schooled them, was their only avenue to today’s civilization. They never had their hair cut, but were taught cleanliness and care, maintaining a groomed appearance amidst a tumultuous wave of domestic chaos. The oldest boy confesses that he was so fearful, he lived silently in his mind. They credit their mother for helping preserve their sanity. She stoked their creative spirit, taught them to cook, gave them free reign over the house while their father isolated in his room “drinking too much wine.” This home was a prison for all.
Besides a few windows peeking out at society down below, the brothers’ only other gateway was cinema. In the documentary, they show off the DVDs, brought in by their father, listing their favorites—Godfather 1 and 2, The Lord of the Rings, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Blue Velvet, plus music videos; their collection totals over 5,000 DVDs and cassettes. Without access to the Internet, they bond over reenacting their favorite films: transcribing dialogue, typing up scripts, memorizing roles, duplicating costumes and props, such as a Batman suit out of yoga mats and cereal boxes, guns and wands and swords from cardboard and tinfoil.
Credit to Moselle for letting the boys take center stage. The camera vanishes; you’re no longer watching but smelling the boys’ favorite meal, lasagna, as well as their piles of blankets and clothes, flopped about the cramped apartment. Experiencing this story from the point-of-view of each family member fills the mind all at once, like peering into a kaleidoscope for the first time, with the different chips of colors and shapes being so much to absorb in one small space simultaneously. The title alone, The Wolfpack, brings to mind the wolf: With such a strong will to survive, he will bite off his own arm or leg if caught in an animal trap, which would otherwise win, killing its victim.
Carrie White is the best-selling author of Upper Cut: Highlights of My Hollywood Life. She tweets @carriewhitehair.
Alec Julian is a Los Angeles based writer. Follow him @PaparazziPorn.