Welcome to Marwen
In April 2000, Mark Hogancamp was brutally and almost fatally attacked outside a bar in Kingston, New York, a hate crime that left him in a coma for nine days and with little to no memory of his life before. Having to learn to walk, eat and write, Hogancamp was left devastated, his life shattered into a million pieces – made more difficult by his inability to continue working as an illustrator. In a search for solace and personal rehabilitation, he swapped the pencil for the camera, creating his own fantasy world in which heroism lies in the hands of his saviours and building an inspiring art installation worthy of recognition. Hogancamp’s story shows that in the face of adversity, courage and salvation can be found via a multitude of avenues, and it is Welcome to Marwen that now displays his journey to the world.
A number of years after the attack, Mark (Steve Carell) is slowly building a sustainable life for himself, finding comfort in his project “Marwen”, a miniature village set in World War Two Belgium, aptly named after a portmanteau of Mark’s previous companion Wendy. Through his beautiful imagination, the dolls that populate the village, including Captain Hoagie and the kick-ass women of Marwen come to life, enacting their own exciting adventures that are caught on camera for Mark’s pleasure. However, a new chapter in the adventures of both our protagonist and his doll counterpart begins when Nicol (Leslie Mann) moves into the house across the street, changing the prospects of his rehabilitation as both man and action figure tackle the reality of post-traumatic stress disorder and strive toward a brighter future.
There are a number of themes explored in the movie. Primarily, the film looks to address the very real devastation that can be experienced when suffering from PTSD, and it is from this crux that other themes of justice, redemption and resurrection are explored. The task of creating such a complex, abstract feature, whilst also remaining honest to the true source material with absolute justification, falls at the feet of the illustrious Robert Zemeckis and his lead man Carell – who must embody not only a man suffering with a wide range of emotions, mental health instabilities and a medication addiction, but also believably immerse himself into the creative imagination of Hogancamp’s mind, effectively bringing the village of Marwen to life for the audience and pushing his acting abilities to the ultimate limit. That box is well and truly ticked.
Jumping in and out of reality can be tiresome in some movie portrayals, but thanks to the direction of Zemekis and the cinematography of C Kim Miles, Welcome to Marwen presents a very different style of filming, embracing the aesthetics and appearances of Marwen and its figurine inhabitants, all of whom strongly resemble their human equivalents facially, yet possess all the famous features and accessories of action figure dolls. It does take a few moments to become accustomed to this style, but it soon becomes second nature to the viewer as both worlds amalgamate, making some scenes comical and others almost as fear-inducing as a PTSD panic attack itself.
Each character gets screen time, but for the women (a badass cast including Eiza González, Diane Kruger, Gwendoline Christie, Janelle Monae and Merritt Wever), it is more through their Marwen counterpart than in the flesh. This isn’t necessarily to the detriment of the film, though it would have been nice to see these ladies – who are classed as so important in Mark’s rehabilitation – given a greater level of development in the grander story. Minor quibbles aside, Welcome to Marwen is a heart-breaking, funny, quirky film that appreciates the simple things in life, much like the fractured Hogancamp, who is rebuilding his confidence once step at a time. The man who inspired the movie was targeted and beaten for being different, but what his story and this film really tell us is that you should never be afraid to be different – and if you take anything away from this journey to Marwen, it is Mark’s brave words: “I’m still here. I have hope. And I have my town. And I have my friends. And I’ll be okay.”
Welcome to Marwen is released nationwide on 1st January 2019.
Watch the trailer for Welcome to Marwen here: