Marwencol (2010)

Makes playing with dolls look cool when you’re over 40 look cool again.

This film follows Mark Hogancamp, a man who was beaten near to death and left with brain damage that left him incapable of remembering almost anything about his life, but who started healing himself by building an miniature elaborate WWII-era city in his backyard and photographing stories with it’s action figure residents.

For most of you out there reading this right now, you’re all probably thinking just what the hell have I decided to review. I mean a documentary about a grown-ass man playing with his dolls for 83 minutes? Sounds like a very strange choice to watch but thanks to Netflix saying that I had 5 days to watch it, I couldn’t have been more surprised by the choice that I made.

When you think about dolls, all you think about is little girls playing around with their Barbies and having them do some crazy, messed-up shit with Ken. Maybe I’m all alone on that one but you get the drift. Anywho, you never ever think about dolls as ever being considered something as grand and beautiful as “art” but that’s exactly what this film shows. Hogencamp creates this world of all of these dolls and we see their “lives” played out right in front of our eyes through the pictures he takes and the explanation of what’s happening in these pictures and why. It all sounds very uninteresting and more like something that you tried to do and failed at when you were about 7, but it works here because the pictures Hogancamp takes are so perfect. These dolls seem like actual people in these pictures that almost feel like they have real-life emotions. It sounds like I’m going crazy and totally over-talking all of the pictures that this guy takes but they are honestly unlike anything else you have ever seen before, especially with these dolls.

Even though the title of this movie is named after the little town that Hogancamp creates, it’s more about how this guy learns how to process his experiences through this little dolls. This guy has obviously been through a lot and with the stuff he can actually remember, he tries to channel them through these dolls because that’s the only way he can. He can’t talk about it because he doesn’t remember and he sure as hell can’t draw a picture or write song about it, all he can do is channel his emotions through his dolls and show how he feels about everything. I don’t want to go so far as to say that this is some high-class inspirational shit right here, but I will say that it did make me want to go and try to do something like this myself and create my own little stories that I have wrapped up in my head.

The only thing about this movie that I think they dropped the ball on was telling me more about what Hogancamp was like before he got half beat-up to death and what exactly happened. To be honest we do get to hear a lot about what Hogancamp had to experience before he got brain damage, but we never really find out what the guy really was like other than a drunk. Was he a normal dude? Was he a crazed maniac that only got crazier after he got beat up? Or was he just the dude we see in front of us now, just with a huge loss of memory in his head now? I don’t know who or what he was before he got beat up and I kind of wish that the film actually talked a bit about that more.

Despite that problem though, I have to say that Mark Hogancamp is a perfect subject for this type of story. The guy is a totally likable and endearing dude that is humble, nice to everyone he sees and meets, always trying to keep a smile on his face even when it seems like he’s going to freak out, and has a great deal of honesty to him that makes you feel like you can trust this guy with everything he’s telling you about his life and what’s going through his head. Mark Hogancamp is one of those characters that wouldn’t be as believable, had he been written as a character, but since he’s an actual person it’s even more of a surprise to see someone who’s so happy and up-front with his life, rather than trying to make us feel sorry for him. The guy doesn’t even consider the stuff he does as “art”, and treats it more as an escape for him to get past the fact that he can’t live the life that he was going to do. It’s a sad story but with a guy like Mark Hogancamp in the center of it all, there’s a bright of cheeriness to it that makes it work.

Consensus: Even though it is a very strange story to begin with, Marwencol is still a very up-lifting and well-done documentary, due to the fact that you have a subject such as Mark Hogancamp telling the story the way it is and taking you into his own little world, where only his experiences with life are told. Go get your G.I. Joe’s and start playing, people!



  1. This review comes across as endearing, honest and charming as the man does himself in the film 🙂 Its a favorite of mine as well.

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