directed by Guy Fiorita
Archer Gray, Tongal, and White Horse Pictures
Today we’d say Ron is “High functioning but on the spectrum.” But when he began to act “oddly” his friends just called him “Mole Man.” Why? For the intricate system of tunnels and buildings he’s created in the backyard using no nails or concrete. His project is impressive if scary, and it’s a local tourist attraction.
Born in 1950 he was just weird and mopey, but he lit up when given Legos and an erector set. The family lived in rural western Pennsylvania back when it jumped as a busy industrial center. But those happy days died in the 1970s and today the area returns back into primeval woodlands, full of abandoned houses and even entire cities. Mole Man fills his days scrounging building material and toys from these abandoned places and building a rambling maze of buildings out behind his mother’s house. Dad is gone, mom is on the wrong side of 90, and what is Mole Man’s family to do with him? There is no satisfactory answer, institutionalizing him would be cruel but leaving him on his own equally unpleasant. And that’s the punch out of this mesmerizing documentary: there are very tough questions that surround aging for those who never really fit in and have few resources.
I enjoyed Mole Man’s compound. He’s assembled over a dozen rambling structures, all built without nails or concrete, just his obsessive eye for fine fitting keeps these buildings upright. We follow him on his scrounging runs, see what the countryside has grown back to, and search for an imagined collection of abandoned classic automobiles. He even explains how he builds. It may not be code, but it is extremely clever. Inside his maze we find a murky collection of stuff: toilet plungers, a clock, Legos, a house-sized maze, and deep cellars dug by hand. Permits? What are those? Inspections? It looks good to me. Visitors? A steady stream, all willing to crawl through this project at whatever risk to life and limb there might be. Mole Man is affable and pleasant, but he does need some support.