Last night I saw the movie The Wolfpack. It tells the story of six brothers, mostly teenagers, growing up in New York City. Their father rarely let them emerge from their sixteenth floor apartment, so they spent the majority of their lives inside.
They were homeschooled, and boy, were they isolated. They had no friends outside the family, and almost no experiences outside their apartment. They were allowed to watch movies, lots and lots of movies.
Despite being raised in a wildly unorthodox fashion, the boys come across as intelligent, articulate, radiant beings. As filmmaker Crystal Moselle says in a New York Times article, “The thing is, these brothers are some of the most gentle, insightful, curious people I’ve ever met. Something was clearly done right.”
Something was clearly done right. That’s a bold statement. Is there anyone, on hearing about the conditions in which the boys were raised, who would think such a thing could possibly be true? Perhaps Moselle’s conclusion comes from looking at the pack through an artist’s eyes, with intelligence, curiosity, open-mindedness, and genuine caring. Her film doesn’t judge the family, but rather tells their human story.
Although the boys are prevented from interacting with the outside world, they do have each other, as well as a close relationship with their mother. I don’t know any homeschooling families who operate the way they did, but I recognized characteristics typical of most homeschoolers I know. They include close family relationships, openness, innocence, curiosity, and creativity.
Watching the hours upon hours the brothers spent transcribing entire film scripts, creating costumes, and re-enacting their favorite movies reminded me of some of my own kids’ obsessions. In another interview with Moselle, she points out that the brothers were more knowledgeable than she about her own field: “I mean, I went to film school, but they’re like little encyclopedia cinephiles. You can be like, ‘So, who won the Oscar in 1977?’ And they’ll tell you who it was and who should’ve won.” I’ve known several homeschoolers who’ve developed similar encyclopedic knowledge relating to their interests.
Once the brothers, as adolescents, start going out into the world more often, they seem to have few issues coping with it. They meet Moselle, look for jobs, and start making their own films. It forces us to ask, what is required for one to become socialized, and what does socialization even mean?
Of course the members of the wolfpack have plenty of issues. They speak of their fear, their anger, and their longings. They have to grapple with who they are, and where they came from. In those things, they’re no different from the rest of us.