Welcome To Marwen

 

            This one is for all those who live inside their heads.  Sometimes, it's a comforting place to retreat.  Other times, it's hide-yourself-under-the-covers frightening.  In between, it can be terribly lonely.  But the good news is that you control the narrative in there.  And you can make the world into a place where you like to be.

            Based on a true story, Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carrell) was a drawer and illustrator until that fateful night he got drunk in a bar and was defenseless against a bunch of thugs who made fun of him, then proceeded to beat him within an inch of his life.

            Mark remembers nothing of his life before the attack.  He can't draw anymore; he can barely sign his name.  Long rehab has enabled him to be able to walk again, and do simple chores, like mopping, which is now what he does for a living.  At that same bar.  It seems the locals, together, look after him, and allow him the idiosyncracies he's developed.  Like carrying around his dolls, which represent his very active fantasy life.

            Mark has built a replica of a small town in Belgium, during World War II, which he has named “Marwen.”  The Captain, Hogie, a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps, got shot down near there, and he always has to fight the Nazis that seem to keep popping up around him.  But he's got help, a group of women who are skilled resistance fighters, but look very much like Barbie dolls.

            Director (and co-author) Robert Zemeckis alternates between stories of Captain Hoagie, Mark's heroic doppelganger, and Mark himself, as he pulls his dolls in a wagon into town, stopping at the hobby store, where he picks up miniature props for the stories that advance in his head.  Mark also takes photographs of the lifelike dolls within his narrative, and the photographs have apparently drawn some artistic attention, in their unique style and setting.

            But Mark's PTSD continues to haunt him.  It takes the form of a witch-like figure who taunts him at night.  The thugs who beat him mercilessly take on the personas of the Nazi troops.  The girls who have been nice to him---the bartender who came to his aid after the beating, the woman who works at the hobby shop, the woman who helped him with rehab---they are the “good guys” in the continuing fantasies inside his head.  The young woman who just moved in across the street, Nicol (Leslie Mann), hearing Mark's story, is immediately kind to him.  But he misinterprets that, and we feel for Mark, because part of what's beat out of him is the normal perception of social cues.  Mark struggles with the temptation to take more medicine, because it helps make the pain go away.  He struggles with the idea of facing the bullies in court, at their sentencing hearing.  Much of his life is a struggle. 

            But we root for Mark Hogencamp, because he's a gentle soul who's just trying to make his way in the world, and since so much has been taken away from him, he finds it comforting to retreat inside his head, where he can make a world of his own choosing.  We can all identify with that desire.  And we can all empathize enough with Mark to make us feel Welcome in Marven.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association