Crystal Moselle’s fascinating documentary The Wolfpack, in theaters today, tells the story of the Angulo family, six brothers and one sister who grew up in a Lower East Side housing project but were kept in almost complete isolation by their messianic, abusive father and psychologically defeated mother. They spent much of their childhoods in almost total seclusion, and between 1996 and 2010 there were years they never left the apartment. Their only connection to the outside world came through the movies they obsessively consumed. Over the course of the documentary, which was filmed between late 2010 and now, they begin to venture out into the city on their own. Their perspective of the city is a totally unique one — when they start to visit New York neighborhoods, landmarks, and streets, their only way of relating to their surroundings is through film. Here are 5 of the places the Angulos explored, as seen through their eyes.
Movie: The Dark Knight
To the Angulos, New York City was a terrifying place, full of drugs and violence and squalor, not unlike Gotham City in The Dark Knight, one of their favorite movies. Scared to go out, they isolated themselves in their apartment, which happened to be on Delancey Street, the main thoroughfare of the Lower East Side. Mukunda, the fourth brother but the unofficial leader, was the first to go outside by himself. One morning in January 2010, at the age of 15, he put on a Michael Meyers mask and stepped out into the world. He walked around the neighborhood until the cops picked him up. Like Batman/Bruce Wayne (who Mukunda plays when they reenact movies), Mukunda needed to put on a disguise to become who he needed to be.
East River Park
Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
One of the joys of The Wolfpack is seeing the boys do things that we take for granted for the very first time. At one point, they visit East River Park, just down the street from their house, for the first time. “This is like 3D!” one of the boys exclaims. Another compares it to the Fangorn Forest in Lord Of the Rings. Everyone has stuff happen that they describe as being “like a movie,” but since the brothers have only experienced the world through movies, everything they encounter is like it’s from a movie.
Movie: Lawrence of Arabia
Moselle takes the boys to Coney Island. Since Coney Island is a beach, there’s sand. They’ve only seen sand in movies about the desert. So Coney Island reminds them of Lawrence of Arabia. They’re not much like T.E. Lawrence, though; with their furtive smoking and drinking, they’re like normal teenagers, and with their simultaneous fear and amazement toward the ocean, they’re like aliens marooned on Earth.
East Village Cinema
Movie: The Fighter
The first movie they ever see in a theater is David O. Russell’s boxing biopic The Fighter. They go to East Village Cinema, a theater that’s both historic and merely okay. It’s not New York’s best movie theater, and it’s not the worst. But to the Angulo boys, it’s a magical place. Mukunda exclaims that he’s going to remember this night for a very long time. “To think my money is actually going to go to David O. Russell or Mark Wahlberg or Christian Bale, that’s awesome!” he enthuses, showing both how much he loves “the movies” and how unjaded he is despite his circumstances.
Movie: The Shawshank Redemption
The second-oldest of the boys, Govinda, is the first to move out of the family apartment. He rents what looks like an uncomfortably low-ceilinged room in Bed-Stuy. It’s not much, but it’s his own. By leaving home, he makes a huge step toward independence and becoming his own person, one who isn’t defined by where he came from. Early in the movie, the boys compare their upbringing to prison, so moving out is sort of like a jailbreak. It’s difficult, and the future is uncertain, but he’s working as a production assistant, making movies and chasing his dreams.
(Photo: Magnolia Pictures)