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In 2010, director Crystal Moselle was walking down First Avenue, Manhattan, when a young boy with long black hair ran past her, followed by his five, near identical brothers. In what she claims to be a moment of pure instinct, Moselle ran after them, subsequently discovering their remarkable tale. The brothers had grown up cloistered in their New York family apartment, schooled at home and controlled by an authoritarian father. Some years they would go outside, maybe, nine times. One year they weren’t allowed outside at all. Their coping mechanism for this sheltered existence was movies—watching and re-creating them.
I am a big fan of people creating art in a low-fi, DIY kind of way. Zines, tumblr, Instagram—these are all very democratic mediums reflecting 20th-century artist Joseph Beuy’s assertion that “everyone is an artist”. Similarly, the boys’ attraction to movies as a means of accessing alternate realities is very relatable. Given this, one of the best parts of The Wolfpack was being able to see scenes of the boys re-creating films like Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and The Dark Knight, all of which were genuinely funny and/or scary, and certainly impressive. But the effect of movies on their lives was ultimately much more pervasive than this. As they emerge into the outside world, their method of dealing with this is through experiencing reality as a movie. Their style and mannerisms echo that of the films they’ve seen. They are constantly quoting and referencing films, and the way they speak to the camera is to some extent affected, as though they are acting—so conscious are they of the fact of being filmed and the implications of that gaze.
And yet, much of the film leaves you feeling strangely untouched and distant from the reality of their life and the abuse their father inflicted upon them—even where they are discussing the fact that they could never forgive him, even when they are close to tears. Perhaps this is because of the filmic way in which they approach the interviews, or the fact that the film does not explain how it came into being. But either way, this aspect of The Wolfpack is ultimately its weakest point. Their experience somehow doesn’t feel real, Moselle assuming our empathy, rather than facilitating it through her craft.