“Marwencol” is the 2010 documentary that the 2018 Steve Carrell movie, “Welcome to Marwen,” was based upon. We meet Mark Hogancamp four years after he was viciously beaten by five teenagers, losing all of his memories and abilities. In an effort to retrain his hand and his imagination he began building Marwenco, a WWII-era Belgian town, in his backyard.
Populated by dolls that tell his elaborate stories of love and revenge, Marwenco allows Hogancamp to process his attack, work out his anger and begin to feel safe again. The figures are beautifully painted and realistically posed. His understanding of the body and body language is so profound he is able to show a character’s mood and intent with only the subtle positioning of the hand. He starts photographing his town simply to document and remember the stories, but the photographs themselves are pure art, unfettered by any sense of distance or irony. In a response to a critic’s comment, “Why don’t we look at pictures of real war?” Hogancamps’ best friend responds insightfully, “This is Mark’s real war.”
“Welcome to Marwen” faithfully recreates the dolls’ plotline and style, sans some of the more graphic violence. It almost seems as though they borrowed some of his original dolls, and they definitely used his original photographs. The film does take some liberties with Hogancamp’s real life story, and sometimes interprets motives differently than I would, having seen the documentary. The casting is spot-on. Steve Carrell not only looks like the “Hogge” doll, he is an actor capable of great depth and subtle fragility. Merritt Wever embodies the sympathetic Roberta in a way no other actress could have done.
“Welcome to Marwen” does have something that the doc doesn’t have, live action scenes of the town of Marwen. An impressive effect combined CGI with real film of the actors’ eyes and mouths to create a human-doll hybrid that could believably act out the emotions and
I would recommend you see them both, but if you can only choose one, go for the doc, “Marwenco.” It illuminates the human mind, emotions, and resilience in a way that it never has been done before and teaches you what it means to be true to yourself. And it has the most meta ending ever.
“Welcome to Marwen” is available on Amazon, and “Marwencol” is available on Doc Club through Amazon.