This is a documentary featuring a crackpot couple of parents and the 7 children they’ve home school and raised in near-complete isolation. The family lives in a 4-bedroom apartment in Manhattan and have rarely left it. The kids are totally ignorant of the world outside their windows, but spend their time looking at another screen – their television. Enamoured with movies, they seem to have saved themselves from the nuthouse by finding a creative outlet in faithfully recreating their favourite movies.
They write scripts literally by taking long-hand dictation from the movie, one line at a time, and then typing it up with an ancient typewriter. They make astounding costumes and props using notebook paper and cardboard but end up with a product so realistic the police raided them on a gun charge.
It’s hard to watch this movie because this crazy way of life was imposed by a father who apparently hates the country that is feeding and housing him (he “shows his rebellion” by not working, although he would make an exception for a recording contract, (so obviously his beliefs are quite sincere) and has infected his family with such a pervasive feeling of paranoia that neither his wife nor children met with the outside world for 14 years.
When the 6 boys are finally old enough to venture out, everything is new and strange and bright; maybe too bright. Everything appears to be suddenly “3D” to them, and when they see trees up close and glorious, they can only compare them to a forest they’ve seen in Lord of the Rings.
The kids are well-spoken and capable – despite, not because of their upbringing. They are fiercely protective of their mother who has fostered their creativity and seems to have been abused and subjugated by her husband right alongside her children.
The father remains a blurry presence in the life of his family, and within the documentary. He appears occasionally but seems to know he’s this movie’s villain. Worse still, the 7th child, a sister, is nearly completely ignored.
The boys met film maker Crystal Moselle by chance on one of their first outings as a group. A film student, the 6-pack of brothers with waist-long hair, dark suits and Raybans caught her eye, and she’s followed them ever since. Their world is definitely fascinating, and at times frustrating (like it or not, they’ve caught their father’s paranoia) but unfortunately, this documentary doesn’t have much to say. Yes, this was a crazy upbringing, a crazy life – but so what? Moselle doesn’t seem to have a point to make. And while I found this to be an eminently interesting watch, it wasn’t an enlightening one.