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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

The Wolfpack

IntroductionThe Wolfpack

The Wolfpack, directed by Crystal Moselle, was released in 2015. It is a documentary film that charts the lives of the six Angulo brothers who grew up with their mother and sister largely confined to their New York apartment by their father. One brother describes their father “as a land owner and we are the people working on the land”. They learned about the world through repeatedly watching films on DVD with one brother explaining that “movies opened up another world”. They spent much of their time reenacting scenes, using intricately handmade costumes, from their favourite movies such as Reservoir Dogs, The Dark Knight and Pulp Fiction. Home schooled by their mother, the brothers were only allowed out into the community accompanied by their father a handful of times and sometimes not even every year. When one of the brothers, at the age of 15, decides to go outside alone their whole life changes and their confinement ends. The filmmaker, Moselle, first encountered them walking down a Manhattan street in 2010 dressed as characters from Reservoir Dogs sparking a fascination with the brothers that led to her making the documentary.

The film won 7 awards, including the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize 2015 and the Edinburgh International Film Festival award for Best Documentary Feature Film. More information is given in an excellent interview by Tom Shone, published in the Telegraph newspaper in August 2015.

The Film

The Wolfpack tells the brothers’ story through a collage of early home movie footage and the interactions and excursions filmed by Crystal Moselle as their biography is brought up to date. What is immediately striking is how similar the brothers look and that, at the wish of their father who was a Hare Krishna devotee, they all have long flowing hair. It is also interesting that the Angulo boys seem very appropriate and measured in their behaviour towards each other, the filmmaker and to their parents. It seems that Moselle was the first person they had ever experienced visiting their apartment. The back story of their parents’ earlier life emerges gradually and the eventual interviews with their, initially camera shy, father reveal his strong opinions about his own powers and purpose but also his paranoid view of New York society. When he moved to America from Peru, it emerges that he had planned to settle the family in Scandinavia because he approved of the social support offered in those countries. Their mother seems to be suffering from her husband’s influence too and this creates some uncomfortable tensions for the viewer as the story unfolds.

The film moves into a different section once fifteen year old Mukunda decides to go out into the community alone, wearing a mask that had been made for the re-enactment of a movie scene. Police soon detain him as his visits into various shops concern the public and he ends up being admitted to a psychiatric ward for assessment, which he really enjoyed. On returning back home with regular psychotherapy sessions set up, Mukunda refuses to be controlled by his father and the brothers’ confinement comes to an end. All of the brothers are offered psychotherapy. The film then records their first forays into the community doing the things that many adolescents do, such as going to the cinema or going to the beach. The scene in which the brothers experience a swim in the sea for the first time is extraordinary in that it brilliantly captures the complete novelty and fear involved in this strange new adventure. One of the brothers cannot follow the others in to the water and stays on the sand despite their encouragement and reassurance. Everything is new and unknown, yet familiar through the films that they have watched endlessly. Always dressing alike and initially resembling the characters in the film Reservoir Dogs with suits and sunglasses on, the brothers acquired the nickname of The Wolfpack. Perhaps because they live in New York, their eccentricity of appearance was seen as ‘cool’ rather then ‘strange’ and this has surely been an important factor in their integration into that society in recent years. Towards the end of the film some glimpses are given of one of the brothers as he moves out of the family apartment and finds a job, although this leaves the viewer hungry for more information and full of unanswered questions about the plight of the whole family.

Relevance to the Field of Mental Health

The Wolfpack is a documentary that offers the opportunity to discuss the safeguarding of children and the extent to which family life choices can be defined as eccentric or as emotionally abusive; normal or abnormal. Could this situation have existed in the UK or in other countries around the world? It also provides a fantastic framework for a discussion about how children acquire healthy social and emotional skills growing up and whether these can in part be met by a large family group of siblings. Their mother appears as a kind, caring but seemingly passive presence although her crucial role as their educator was the source of finance for the whole family. All of the brothers have since cited her influence, alongside the movies, as critically important to them in surviving their confinement and in coping with the difficult relationship with their father. It is interesting that the brothers chose to watch extremely violent films (and important to note that many of the films viewed by the young brothers are rated 18+) and yet they do not immediately appear to have difficulties with the control or expression of aggression, although it is perhaps too early to be sure of their ability to handle conflict outside of the family. They have stated that they were surprised when they found the world outside their flat is not quite as they’d seen it in the movies and one of the brothers has talked about being surprised to see members of the public greeting each other openly with hugs and kisses.

The Wolfpack is a fascinating documentary film that draws you in to the intimate experiences of the Angulo brothers growing up, providing a developmental history and challenging the viewer to imagine how such an experience might feel. It leaves you wondering just how the brothers will forge a life in the world outside in future years and surely begs for a sequel to be made that can update their extraordinary story.

• More information about The Wolfpack can be found at IMDB, as can a short trailer.

The Wolfpack is available on DVD from amazon.co.uk or for streaming on Amazon video.

• Minds on Film is written by Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Joyce Almeida

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About this blog

 

Minds on Film is a blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida

Dr Almeida is a consultant
psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK.


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