Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Wolfpack

Okay, so a couple of weeks ago, I told you how much better your life is because you don't live in a Russian landfill. This week, I'm going to tell you how great a parent you are, because you didn't keep your wife and seven children locked up in a small lower East Side apartment for 20-odd years.

This is The Wolfpack, the tale of six boys who grow up in an apartment, and whose only encounter with the outside world is a window on the 16th floor and movies. Lots and lots of movies that they watch incessantly and re-enact.

It's hard to understand how these things happen, but they do. Or, maybe they don't. There's some question as to whether or this story is real. I will review it as though it is.

In this case, the story is that a young woman from the midwest is travelling around Peru and falls in love with an Incan hiking guide. They move back to New York City with an eye toward heading to the socialist paradises of Scandinavia and Finland, where all Incans must ultimately feel most at home.

Dad, Oscar by name, finds the denizens of the lower East Side, where they live on welfare in public housing, not to his liking, and not the sort of people he wants to raise his children around. This ultimately translates into never letting any of them out of doors, except maybe closely supervised walks with no interaction, anywhere from bi-monthly to bi-annually.

Dad's also got a Hindu thing going, where he wants to have 10 kids by his wife. The first is a girl with Turner Syndrome, though the movie really doesn't discuss this much. I think that's probably a mistake, as having a handicapped child can be kind of spooky, and stressful in a way that might explain Oscar's protectiveness toward the boys.

All of the kids are named after avatars of Hindu gods, like "Bhagavan", "Krsna", and they all have super-long black hair and totally Incan noses.

They're also wildly creative, or perhaps recreative, re-enacting scenes from their favorite movies, especially Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Oh, and the various of the recent Batman movies. They make props from garbage, though they do a really good job of painting them.

The first two acts here are dark and weird, because this is a dark situation. The last act involves the oldest son emerging from the apartment (and then getting arrested, since he chose to visit banks and grocery stores wearing a hand-crafted Michael-Myers-from-Halloween mask). In remarkably felicitious—yes, even suspicious—timing, director Crystal Moselle is there for the big moments of their lives: Going out to a real movie for the first time, seeing Central Park for the first time, estranged mother calling grandmother for the first time.

Although, as noted by one of the sons, one couldn't be completely free of the fear their childhood imparted to them, they do seem to manage to launch—and come to think of it, in ways a lot of parents of some children with normal upbringings might be jealous of.

Three-point scale:

1. Assuming it's genuine, this is (of course) an interesting topic. It raises so many questions it can't possibly hope to answer. The family reportedly lived entirely on various handouts. It wouldn't be possible for this to occur without those handouts. The parents couldn't have had seven children; or the mom couldn't have stayed home to take care of them.

2. It's all on hand-held camera, which is appropriate here. The best shots (visually) are at the end, when they're being set up by the son with film-directing aspirations for his project. I think the subject matter could've been a bit more detail-oriented, which would've answered a lot more questions. Like, at one point, they're assaulted by SWAT agents—the camera's not there for that—because of their prop guns. It all works out, but why not interview the SWAT guy?

3. Bias? Well, if things are as they seem, it's actually pretty neutral. The temptation to paint Oscar as a devil would have to be extreme, and he merely seems wrong, stubborn and maybe a little bit crazy here.

It's a fine example of documentary-making, regardless of veracity. And while there were quite a few parts that made me go "Hmmmm...", I felt it might be because the director sort of fell into the job, and she was interested in the people. It may never have occurred to her to go interview other people in the story.

And that's the most suspicious part. Can you really live on the 16th floor of a building for 20 years with nobody taking an interest in you? On the other side, is it possible that these six distinct looking Incan-Americans have been wandering around New York City and nobody saw this film or heard about it and said, "What? Those guys? I see 'em running around the neighborhood all the time."

So. Grain of salt and all that, it's still a good story.

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