There are many questions to ask about what is exactly going on with the subjects in the documentary The Wolfpack. I think there was a critic (probably more than one) who compared this experience to Grey Gardens - a story also about people who have elected to stay inside of a place and not go out into the rest of the world - in short a truly peculiar, almost absurdly strange experience to view.
But in that situation the Maysles set up the context for it, that these were true blue-blooded Americans of the Kennedy-Onasis-DuPont bunch, and of course the fact that they don't leave their horrible surroundings is part of the point. It's also easy enough to see why they would let them In The Wolfpack we don't know exactly who this family is or how the filmmaker, Crystal Moselle (her first film, by the way), got this kind of access. Did she read about them, or find out about the one son (I forget his name) who somehow finally got the wherewithall or "I've HAD IT" state of mind and went outside against his father's wishes... in a Michael Myers mask, but still(?) There are many questions to ask about how this situation came to be or how it goes on - until it doesn't. But up until that point, which is about halfway through, we get to see a situation that is a little Grey Gardens and also, to me, a little of like the movie Room, which is also about a mindset shaped by being inside all the time (or picture if Jacob Tremblay grew up in 'Room' knowing that for all it was... except, and I'll get to it now).
|Not the LIKE A VIRGIN speech again!|
There's about six or seven kids in the Angulo family in a public housing apartment on the Lower East side of NYC in the early 2000's - Mukunda, Krsna, Jagadisa, Govinda, Bhagavan, and Narayana are the kids - and the father, Oscar, has them supplied with about 5,000 movies on DVD and VHS. They watch them obsessively, to the point where they type out scripts from what they've seen and act out the movies (Pulp Fiction, The Dark Knight, No Country for Old Men among those films). Oh, and they aren't really allowed to go outside.
Why do that when there's home-schooling and, uh, all the movies you could want to watch? I found it a curious contradiction, though that's not uncommon with people who clearly have mental instability, with the father in the film: he tells the children to not go outside, and only rarely lets them out (it's not *exactly* like a prison, but as one boy says it varies year to year - one year you might go out 9 times, another year once, and one year not at all) in large part because he's afraid of the outside world and what it can do to them, the violence out there and the hurt of social connectivity (I suspect 9/11 might have had something to do with it as well, as an immigrant to the US in search of hope and stability for the future, but that's a digression for another time). And yet what about what the movies show, the deeper meanings and things that people cut-off would connect with? Maybe the cushion of "movie" violence is a different beast than actual hurt, but what about being friends with someone, falling in love, connecting on that level?
|The boys' father, last seen partying down with Sasquatch...|
It's one of the unspoken, subtle things that The Wolfpack may be hinting at - if the father never let them watch anything, or certainly not Tarantino or dark Coen brothers or The Godfather and so on (and they are quite hyper-cinema-literate, albeit the usual classics to choose from for teenage boys) - and I liked that about the movie. I wish there could be more to see about how these kids would end up having to discern the fantasy from the reality, or, even deeper (in Slavoj Zizek speak) what the reality IN the fantasy is for these young people. They seem well-adjusted, all things considered, which may be attributable to the mom coming from "normal" rural roots. And yet at the same time that there's this fascinating, warped view into this world that we wouldn't know if not for this director and her access, the movie gets a little less focused once the kids go outside.
It's not necessarily the job of a documentarian to always give us all the information, but in this case it's a story that gets spotty with info; we can discern they get public assistance (there's a special-needs daughter that is rarely seen, plus the mother gets income from being a "home-school teacher"), but what about the father? How does he get along doing what he's doing, which is lazying about thinking he's better than everyone (and committing abuse, if not physical then certainly emotional - though it's hard not to question the mother's role or lack thereof)? And how does he sort of seemingly, easily let go? Maybe he knows this situation just can't last, or doesn't care? Or is there another reason?
There may be an issue here that the director only had so much access; that is she could talk to Mukunda and Govinda and the others about how they feel about their parents, the outside world, cinema and so on, and the mother too, but the father seems shut-off and for the first half not in front of the camera hardly at all (I thought he wouldn't be agreeable to talk, but he eventually does). For me there's also a tension lost once the boys find this bigger world out there and find jobs and places to live - how also does this happen, how do they go about this?
It's one thing to take the Maysles approach and be flies on the wall (as far as it goes) watching what's happening, but in this story she is a part of this story even being told; ironically, I wish it had been a little more, well, traditional, with some narration explaining this an that (hell, even Herzog does that to explain certain things in his work). And because of the time jumps one has to pay attention to when things occur, such as when the boys do go outside in mass for the first time to walk around - Tarantino black suit and sunglasses style of course - and go to the beach and to a movie (The Fighter, it's a funny little bit) and then find themselves into a larger world.
In a narrative sense it's jagged and not completely satisfying. And yet with these misgivings I still think there's enough here on a level that is about deeper, troubling and disturbing about a family that is both very functional and quite dysfunctional in the usual sense. One can judge this or that about the father or mother, and if there is a 'villain' to the story it's the former, but on an emotional level it works, seeing how these children try to find their way into actually living in the real world, whether it's through movies or not (for one of the kids it really is as he becomes a director).