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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 26, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 48
Marwencol a mentally fascinating journey of self-discovery
Arts & Entertainment
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Marwencol a mentally fascinating journey of self-discovery

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Marwencol
Opening November 26


In April of 2000, Mark Hogancamp was assaulted outside a Kingston, NY bar by five men. They pummeled him to the brink of death, leaving him so disfigured even his own mother didn't recognize him. After 40 days in a coma Mark awoke to discover he had little to no memory of his previous life, and unable to afford continuing care or physical and emotional therapy he was discharged and sent home to fend for himself.

In order to help himself retain some semblance of sanity and to facilitate recovery, Mark builds Marwencol, a 1/6 scale WWII-era town he populates with Barbie Dolls and G.I. Joes that he meticulously clothes and reengineers to look like people from his life. As the world he has created begins to grow, he starts telling intricate stories using his characters set during the war but also somewhat consciously based upon his own frazzled memories about things before, during, and after his attack. He takes pictures of these tales, creating a massive visual history of a place and time blossoming from his own weary, yet vivid, imagination.

That's only the tip of the iceberg as far as Jeff Malmberg's Marwencol is concerned. The 2010 Seattle International Film Festival Golden Space Needle award-winner for Best Documentary, this intricate and intimate little film is a glorious and thought-provoking journey through one man's fractured psyche. It is a human drama and a human mystery all at the same time, as who Mark Hogancamp is and what he is doing with his life is a breathless enigma only Mark himself can ever hope to answer.

If anything, the movie is a boon to art therapists. There is something wholly personal about what the act of creation can unlock, what secrets it might unintentionally uncover. For Mark, his creative expressionism involving dolls and the world he manufactures for them is the key to helping him recover from an event too deplorable to imagine. What was done to him - and for the apparent reasons disclosed near the end of the picture - is of striking inhumanity. The level of intolerance shown by his attackers another reason why national hate crime laws that cover everyone no matter what race, nationality, religion, creed, sexual orientation, or gender expression are of such import.

Malmberg goes over everything with a delicate and astonishing touch. He inserts himself into Mark's life with restraint, never pushing things to an extent you feel like harm is being done, but also finding a way to ask questions that could end up doing his subject a modicum of good. This is a documentary where the filmmaker can't help but become a part of the story, and for once that's a plus and not a minus, the two engaging in a cathartic friendship that's honest and heartwarming.

There is plenty here for audiences to mull over. From a strictly artistic perspective, Mark's creations end up speaking loudly for themselves. From the standpoint of the importance of access to mental health care for people in need, there is much in the way of food for thought. But for me, it is the human drama of one man tackling his own injustice through a lens distinctly of his own design that is the most important. Marwencol is a journey into the subconscious of a man who doesn't always know just how loudly he is speaking, and as such it is this story of triumph - a story that continues to evolve - that makes the film an emotionally stunning achievement worthy of acclaim.

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