Marwencol (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Marwencol (2010)

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Marwencol is a 2010 documentary by Jeff Malmberg that, I admit, during the opening credits had me a little freaked out. The movie opens with a man (Mark HoganCamps) who arranges and photographs GI Joe dolls in elaborate 1/16 size models of World War II scenes. While the pictures of the models were interesting (heck, some downright impressive) the thought of watching a man play with dolls for the next 79 minutes didn’t excite me. I remember throwing a skeptical eyebrow at the person who recommended the movie.

Then I was hooked. After the opening credits the audience is told of Mark Hogancamp's remarkable survival. At the age of 38 Mark had to relearn how to think, talk, walk and live. As Mark puts it, “They wiped my memory, I mean, all memory of everything.” I don’t want to spoil the story on how, but trust me, it is a doosy.

Through the rest of the film you are shown how these WWII models act as physical, emotional and cognitive therapy for Mark and how eventually they grow into art. You learn how these models help Mark deal with his brain damage, diminished fine motor skills and PTSD.

The film introduces you to Mark who as sympathetic but, at first, a rather fantastic character. You meet Mark, learn his back story, and eventually find yourself drawn him. You want him to succeed. The movie progresses almost like a friendship, and despite how personal the story is, you never feel like a voyeur.

The realism of the photos and amazing details are what attracted photographer David Naugle and eventually "Esopus" magazine editor Tod Lippy to Mark’s work. Tod Lippy states that when using dolls in contemporary art work, there is often a sense of “Irony in the work and distance…a wink wink, ‘I’m photographing dolls’ isn’t this funny or subversive or clever or whatever… but in Mark’s work, he is in the work, it is authentic.”

The documentary presents this story with such honesty and sweetness when it would have been easy to sensationalize the story and trivialize his art. Despite being a saccharine story it never feels cheap or unauthentic. You never forget that Mark is still recovering and that this is a deeply personal experience for him.

There are moments where you can see that Mark is still haunted and struggling with the world around him. You are reminded of how cruel the world can be but also how beautiful. Stick through the opening credits and you will be rewarded with a movie that provides an example of true courage in the face of healing.

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Posted by Andrew

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