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Healing Through His Art: Welcome to Marwen

Updated on January 27, 2019


The process of healing from a serious injury takes different approaches with each person. For former New York illustrator turned photographer Mark Hogancamp, he created a fictional World War II village in his backyard where he and his allies, which were based on people he knew, took a stand against the Nazis. In Welcome To Marwen, Mark (Steve Carell) still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a beating he received from five men who didn't care for a fetish Mark admitted. Before going home from the hospital, he received physical therapy from Julie (Janelle Monae) which helped him regain the ability to walk. While he'd been discharged for some time, he still received monthly visits from a caretaker named Anna (Gwendoline Christie), who reminds him to take his anxiety meds. Even though he's stopped drinking, he still visits the bar and grill where the attack occurred, and is friends with the owner as well as with the cook, Carlala (Eiza Gonzalez), who lets Mark help to prepare the food when he's there. He also frequently visits the local hobby store, where the clerk, Roberta (Merritt Wever) helps him select new items to add to his art installation. When Nicol (Leslie Mann) moves in across the street, she starts to ask about Mark's town, Marwen, and he explains it to her.

His photography has garnered acclaim, and an exhibit of his photos is about to take place. This exhibit, however, is about to coincide with a court date that will pronounce sentence on the men who were convicted of attacking Mark. His lawyer not only has a hard time reaching his client, but being at the courthouse brings out the nervous behavior of Mark. Both Roberta and Nicol tell him he needs to face those men one more time. Meanwhile, Mark learns that Nicol is trying to leave behind an unhappy situation of her own, even though her ill-tempered ex-boyfriend comes to her home to try and reconcile. Nicol, too, becomes the inspiration for some of Mark's pictures. Mark, however, thinks about taking things with Nicol beyond artistic inspiration.


Welcome To Marwen is based on the life of Hogancamp, who had to reinvent himself as an artist after the beating he took left him unable to resume drawing, and robbed him of any personal memory he had before the beating. Director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis has a basis for a good drama, but adds fantasy sequences where Mark (in his alter ego Cap'n Hogie) and his allies battle the Nazis and a Belgian witch named Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger) with extreme prejudice. In a film supposed to be about the work of a photographer, viewers see far too few photographs. The fantasy sequences aren't really necessary, for viewers already see Mark's struggles in the real world. The film would have done better had it made more of an effort to not translate the struggles into the creative realm. The fantasy trivializes the drama. Mark may find the words hard to find, but he does find them. His explanations would have made this movie more effective. Zemeckis squandered the opportunity for a good film by not letting Mark's work and recovery of sorts speak for the man.

Carell, nevertheless, continues to show himself as adept as drama as he is at comedy. He conveys the damages that injury have done to Mark, but he also shows that the life-changing incident has not destroyed his creativity. Marwen, for example, combines his name with that of Wendy, the bartender who discovered him injured. He even lets his personality come through in Cap'n. Hogie, an officer with a twist. Mark keeps being as strong and as focused as he can be, and realizes he's not where he is with the kind and good women he has come to know. Mann is good in a limited role as Nicol, a friendly neighbor who comes to understand that Mark has issues that he can't always control. She, like Mark, struggles to get past the abuse she endured, though Nicol's story angle ends abruptly after another unwelcome encounter with her ex. The other actors who play characters that inspire Mark get very little screen time, save for Wever, who's enjoyable as Roberta, who clearly knows Mark's tastes well.


Life comes with changes, both welcome and unwelcome. Mark Hogancamp might well have continued with his illustrating were it not for the attack on him. He discovered an art form he could handle when drawing was no longer possible. He found a new path, and found a way to give thanks to all who supported him in his recovery and in his artistic endeavor. The true story of Mark Hogancamp should serve as inspiration for others who deal with lingering wounds. I wish, though, that Welcome To Marwen had focused more on Mark's creative process, and not on the imaginings of bringing his creations to life. Since Hogancamp's photos have been well received, I'm sure I stand with other viewers in wishing the real work had played a more active role in the film. Zemeckis has shown he can handle serious drama with Flight. He could have gone the same way with Welcome To Marwen, but he made choices that made this film quite a disappointment.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Welcome To Marwen two stars. Say "No thanks" to this cinematic community.

Welcome To Marwen trailer

© 2019 Pat Mills


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