The Wolfpack (2015) Director: Crystal Moselle Cast: Bhagavan Angulo, Govinda Angulo, Jagadisa Angulo
There are three screens that go into creating a movie. The first screen lives in the collective vision of the writer, director, cinematographer, and editor. The theatre houses the material screen upon which the collected audience consumes the film with all of its senses. At this point, there is also an event or a palette that is highly neglected: the third screen. The third screen appears as soon as the opening scene begins and it inhabits the individual viewer’s brain. There is an agency given to the viewer in interpreting and projecting their own experiences onto the film. The filmmaker has no power in that third screen, except maybe in the synchronous connections they manage to create utilizing visuals, situations, sound, and textures.
As escapist and fantastical as internal viewing is, imagine subsisting on it for months or years at a time. The filmmaker’s vision can become a social connector or even a real lifeline for some.
As a kid, I spent much time indoors while my parents were at work. It wasn’t uncommon in the summers to be content in front of the television while my little sister played around me and my parents were at work. It’s just what some immigrant parents do. We’d go out when they’d get home to run errands and go for walks with them, while other kids played in parks around the building. You could say my family was overprotective of us, but other than that, our upbringing was pretty much home or school. The summers were spent mostly indoors unless we went on vacations or road trips.
In the spring of 2010 director Crystal Moselle came upon the brothers, who would become her documentary subjects, while on a walk on First Avenue in Manhattan. She spied them running by in their waist length hair and too large Ray-Ban sunglasses. Something didn’t sit right with Moselle. She ran after them and struck up a conversation. The six boys between the ages of eleven to eighteen had lived indoors their whole lives confined to a four-bedroom apartment. The Angulo brothers rarely went outside. The Wolfpack is the story of their secluded lives. It is a tale of survival through cinema and heartbreaking circumstances.
“If I didn’t have movies life would be pretty boring. There’d be no point in it....the shy lonely kid. That was my childhood.” – Baghavan Angulo
Despite their circumstances, the brothers subsisted on films. The documentary opens with the brothers in suits recreating scenes from Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. With the ease of well-rehearsed actors, the brothers act out the entire film. The audience soon realizes that the children have memorized the entire film because they’ve re-enacted it repeatedly for their own amusement.
The eldest brothers become the spokespeople for the home. Moselle and her film crew are shown intermittently interacting with the boys. The camera stays back though, observing, as little by little the brothers open up about their lives inside the apartment. As they speak, different accents creep up in their speech. One of them defaults to a voice like Heath Ledger’s The Joker. Another can’t stop John Travolta weaving in and out of his speech patterns. Interviews are interspersed with home movies the family has made, some scenes taped over old cartoons and shows. These home movies are full of carefree and loving images. Yet their memories are infused with a growing anger. The brothers became self-aware of the unnaturalness of their indoor lives. Insights into their father are tinged with awe and distaste. They maintain a protective view of their mother, a woman held under the spell of her husband’s charm and overbearing rules. She is encouraging of her children, shielding them from the outside world, not because their father says so, but out of a motherly, nurturing bond. We see less of the youngest child, the daughter who, as one of them says, “lives entirely in her head.”
One of the films they are fond of recreating is Nolan’s Batman Returns. Watching it was a critical moment for the eldest brother’s life. As he stands in front of the apartment window dressed in a detailed homemade Batman suit, he tells the crew that it made him feel like he could do anything. Eventually, he’s the first one to break the rules and go outside on his own.
The brothers go out to a movie for the first time. To an outsider it would seem like a normal night for typical teenagers to venture out to the movies. To them, an actual theatre has been a dream. As they come out of it, one of them declares, “My money is going directly to Christian Bale! That’s awesome!” And, so, with one sentence and a sparkle in his eyes, he has explained the magic of film and filmmaking!
As a child of parents and cinema alike, the third screen grabbed at me particulary and I connected closely to The Wolfpack as I spent hours indoors for days or weeks at a time but these boys, some of them now men, spent years, decades cloistered from the sun while the world bustled around them. Some years they’d go out nine times a year until the year came that they didn’t go out at all. The Angulo brothers were held like prisoners in their apartment. They were also figuratively imprisoned in their minds by their father. A day at the beach will forever be likened to scenes in Lawrence of Arabia to them. Their awkwardness in the real world is palpable and powerfully captured and conveyed on the cinematic screen.
There’s a loneliness in this film that will have any disenfranchised individual squirming in their seats. Bile will rise because the third screen will be affected and splattered on. The Wolfpack is a story of desolation, but there it comes with hope. You won’t leave the theatre upset. When they dress their father as the all-knowing spirit and costume their continually happy sister as a vision of pure joy, you’ll understand. You’ll scream with the brothers. Between tears you’ll want to know more.
But you’ll want some fresh air.
Jacqueline Valencia is a Toronto-based poet and critic. She the author of The Octopus Complex(Lyrical Myrical 2013), the senior staff film critic at Next Projection, and the founding editor of These Girls On Film.