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The Wolfpack is a documentary about six brothers who were raised on movies. Socially, movies were to the Angulo brothers what McDonald’s was to Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me. Spurlock’s diet, however, was voluntary, whereas the Angulo brothers’ isolation was forced. Most years their paranoid, domineering father forbade them from leaving the apartment more than once through the entire year. Throughout the film, we see the brothers at times gazing out their apartment windows and at other times gazing into their television screen, their only regular means of encountering the world.

Through home video footage and interviews, we learn how movies have profoundly influenced the Angulo brothers. Although they each appear somewhat socially awkward, they have nonetheless become affable, curious individuals. Yet I am not suggesting their father’s authoritarianism was acceptable. On the contrary, one cannot see The Wolfpack without feeling animosity toward the father. During one scene, one of the brothers describes his first memory of childhood as feeling frightened, and he recalls that feeling ensuing from the sounds of his father slapping his mother in another room.

Despite the persistent unease the rawness of the film causes, the The Wolfpack is punctuated with humor. The Angulo brothers’ reenactments of several of their favorite films is entertaining and impressive. Furthermore, the creativity and thoroughness they employ in designing the costumes and props and in portraying the characters demonstrates they have acquired an arts education, however unconventional it may be. In addition to making the film more engaging, the brothers’ artistic abilities and wit complicate our evaluation of their situation. Although our first impulse is to pity them, by the end of the film we admire them.

Roger Ebert described the movies as “a machine that generates empathy.” If empathy is what makes us human, then the movies are also a machine that humanizes. The Wolfpack is a movie about the way movies humanize. In the absence of actual human interactions, movies allowed the Angulo brothers to immerse themselves in the experiences of others. As a result, they have been able to transcend the limits of their circumstances. Thus, the best movies humanize the viewer by first humanizing the subjects, and The Wolfpack does exactly that. By depicting the resilience and development of the Angulo brothers in their most human moments, The Wolfpack generates empathy in us, the viewers, and thereby allows us to become more human, too.

The Wolfpack screened at Full Frame earlier this year and won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance before that. The film opens at the Chelsea Theater and the Carolina Theater today.

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