If all our technophobic dystopian predictions came true, I, ROBOT happened and face-to-face interaction actually died to be replaced by simulations through technology, and we spent all day everyday looking at projections of life rather than living it for ourselves, what would happen? How would our human desires manifest themselves?
To a slightly less extreme degree, the Angulo siblings are the living products of such an experiment, although the lifestyle wasn’t a test but a conscious decision by their father in order to shut out the big bad world. Oscar Angulo and his wife Susanne homeschooled their seven children in a 16th-story four-bedroom apartment in a housing project in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. The keeper of the only set of keys, the “Warden” to their prison (as one of the sons dryly suggests), was Oscar. He forbade them to interact with outsiders: he created his own pack.
And who doesn’t from time to time fantasize about a magical island removed from reality on which only our favourite people reside? No rush-hour sardine squeeze on the tube with sweaty commuters every morning, no road rage, no awkward distant relative meet-ups, no scary walks home alone at night in dodgy areas… just comfort, familiarity and security.
For about five minutes. If you put me in a flat 16 stories up from the ground with my parents for 14 years I’d put money on me launching myself from the window before the sun had set on the first week. But the Angulo siblings, as Crystal Moselle’s extraordinary documentary shows, managed to keep sane through their isolation and develop into unique, strong-minded individuals. They did it through the portal into infinite universes that is film.
The result of Crystal Moselle’s documentation of said experiment is the wonderful, the weird, THE WOLFPACK. For a first time documentary director, Moselle shines in her twinkling New York-apt cinematography and compelling structuring of narrative (which leaves out Oscar’s perspective until much later, working him up to be an other-worldly, mysterious figure whose house we have trudged back and forth in but haven’t actually met yet). But I wanted to know more of the director’s relationship with the pack – how on earth did she get access to such a closely protected world? She bonded with the 6 Angulo boys over their shared love of film, bumping into them one day in 2010 when they were out strolling in Manhattan, clad in their signature Reservoir Dogs-esq get-up (that’s how much films meant to them: they literally became their favourite characters to step outside of their containment).
It is obvious that being cinephiles is the gravitational centre of THE WOLFPACK (for both filmmaker and subject) and that the idea of being in an actual film was probably enough draw for the siblings. But how did they get round Big Angulo Daddy, whose rule was so strict, whole years went by in his children’s childhood where they didn’t leave the apartment once?
Without a doubt, there are a few jaw-dropping moments and did-he-really-just-say-that lines. But the “Wolfpack”, for all their strange ticks and bizarre rituals, are undeniably smart and creative. Instead of inverting into themselves they, bit by bit, resisting the tyrannical rule of their father, gained control of their surrounding space, until their growth could not be contained any longer and spilled out of the prison and onto the streets of Manhattan. They even speak with perspective – something you would not expect a recluse to have – on their situation, commenting on how many people would have gone crazy being kept inside for so long, and that they might have too if it wasn’t for the support and love of their mother.
Do we need to read newspapers and follow everyone on Twitter, check our Facebook feeds manically throughout the day and update our Instagram networks on our every move, to be intelligent and relevant human beings? Would we still be part of the world if we couldn’t see our existence digitally reflected back at us? We see a few snapshots of what the Angulo siblings are up to post-confinement, and it includes working on film sets, decorating new living spaces, socialising and even protesting in an anti-fracking demonstration. One has made his first film.
The prospect of confinement is horrible, and the claustrophobia that these kids and their mother clearly felt is at times heart-breaking. But honestly the way siblings lived their lives reminded me of that free-reigning, unabashed creativity of being a child. If you want to make a whole city of your own out of cardboard crap around the house, there’s nothing to stop you. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t. There’s no ‘this is silly.’ One of the boys described that the most positive thing about their experience was how it encouraged him to think – he had to use his imagination to get outside of the confines of the rooms. Moselle has captured this inspiring excitement perfectly – don’t miss it.