The Wolfpack: Angels in the Prison of Somebody Else’s Mind

Film: The Wolfpack
Director: Crystal Moselle

“Hide away folk family
Or else someone’s gonna get ya (someone’s gonna get ya)
Someone’s gonna get ya
Hide away folk family
Better hide away
Better hide away . . .”
– They Might Be Giants

Oscar Angulo is a Peruvian who met his American wife, Susanne, while he was working as a tour guide in Macchu Pichu and she was living the life of a carefree bohemian. He had just converted to Hare Krishna. After they married he tried to imitate his god by having ten children, but Susanne could only have seven. He gave them all Sanskrit names: the six boys, Mukunda, Narayana, Govinda, Bhagavan, Krisna (Glenn), and Jagadesh (Eddie), and their sister Visnu.

Oscar is, by his own description, a rebel, a rugged individualist, an anti-establishment counterculture hero, a maverick, an enlightened being, a leash for lesser minds. A god.

By what looks like an unbelievable stroke of luck, his wife is a licensed teacher and so New York actually pays her to teach her own kids. (This may have more to say about the government’s jaded acceptance of the shocking incompetence of New York schools than about the generosity of the state’s social safety net, however.)

Thus, Oscar is handed the luxury of choosing whether or not to work. He decides that not working will be his personal act of protest, and so he sits alone in his room every day, watching television, drinking a little more each day, and refusing to let his wife or children out of their 16th-story four-bedroom apartment in a New York City housing project. It’s like the Lady of Shalott lives in a high-rise, but she’s a guy and there are six of her.

The boys keep themselves busy, by, among other things, re-enacting scenes from Reservoir Dogs for a home movie. They dress in dapper suits and shades and carry fake handmade pistols. They put a tremendous amount of work into these productions, from transcribing the entire script to copying even subtle gestures, and they act out every scene with an infectious enthusiasm.

One of the boys points out that movies often portray a “shy, lonely kid,” like himself. Such solitaries are heroes within a culture that values individualism above community, and this has been for him a means of affirming his personal identity even in the tight confines of the “wolfpack.”

Director Crystal Moselle met the boys by accident and spent a lot of time with them, not knowing for a full year that they had spent the first fourteen years of their family life locked up. She says in an interview with Variety:

“They started revealing little stories to me, and then Mukunda told me he had escaped the house once in a Michael Myers mask. That made me ask, ’Why would you have to do that?’ It made me realize the story was more complex than I thought.”

15-year-old Mukunda became the family’s Rosa Parks when he donned the mask and began walking around the neighborhood–until someone called the police (it is New York, after all). When the police arrived, they were ready to take Mukunda back to his home, but he asked them to take him to a hospital instead. They took him to a ward for teens with psychological disturbances, and that was the beginning of his slow acclimatisation to the real world. It wasn’t long after he was sent home that his brothers began their own little escapes.

Now that the boys are “out” some people think they ought to go to school, because that’s supposed to be on the spectrum of normalcy. They want these creative, vibrant human beings, who’ve learned how to get along under extraordinary adversity, to join the ranks of morose teens who sit silently together while messaging each other on their smart phones in an English that’s even more daft than the English they speak, in a place where teachers turn their weary eyes away from soul-crushing bullying and sometimes don’t even bother to teach.

“Over my dead body,” says Mukunda. “They won’t make me go to a real school.” Is he internalising Daddy’s ideology or simply facing a grim reality?

The mother, Susanne, is a tragic heroine, someone who aimed for the stars but fell crashing to earth. Almost as constricted as the boys, she was able to leave the house on occasion because of medical emergencies. She endured physical and mental abuse at the hands of her husband and devoted her entire life to raising and educating her boys while having no friends, no contact with her family, and no time for her personal interests.

This was the smart, young, flower-child that had grown up on a farm, received a university degree, and toured South America. Even now she seems utterly normal. Even the way she defends the decision to keep the boys at home to teach them sounds so sane and is exactly why I, and many other parents during this era, chose to educate our children at home. Yes, it’s true that public schools don’t provide healthy socialisation, and it’s true that New York is a dangerous place. But all this sugar-coats the wackiness of this home, which she doesn’t seem ready to face.

Her great regret is that her children hadn’t had the green fields that she’d gorwn up with. The thought of it brings her to tears. “But it didn’t happen,” she says sadly, as if she’d expected it to “just happen.”

She is clearly a wonderful person, so it’s hard to dismiss her as a helpless doormat. Also, her sons are so loving and respectful when they speak of her that you can only love her more and try to think of ways to help her. The director became close friends with Susanne while the movie was being made, and one can clearly see why.

Despite all this, the ending suggests that love really does cover a multitude of sins. Amen.

The Wolfpack manifests seven of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing.

• It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
• It poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence.
• It stimulates my mind.
• It’s about attainment of the true self.
• It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation.
• It displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering.
• It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.

This article owes much to the indispensable research assistance of Bill Waterman.

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