Mark Hogancamp was practically beaten to death.  He spent nine days in a coma and 40 days in a hospital before he was sent home.  He had no money for therapy, and because the attack completely ruined him physically and mentally, he had to rebuild himself from scratch.

The last thing anyone would do in this situation would be to build a 1/6th-sized WWII replica town, but Mark went and did just that.  If there’s one thing that anyone should have, it’s an imagination and an ability to create any sort of dream and turn it into reality.  Mark used his imagination, probably the only thing he had left from the attack, and turned it into this town, called Marwencol (named after himself, Wendy (the owner of the bar he works at), and Colleen (his first “fictional” wife that is actually a real person in real life)).

The town is his escape, using himself as the hero and allowing anyone to come to this town as long as they don’t cause trouble.  The Germans, the Russians, the British and the Americans all come to the single bar (ran by Mark’s mother no less), and drink and indulge in competitive cat fights between the 27 Barbie dolls that Mark has in his collection.  There are dolls that represent real world people, if you haven’t figured that out yet – Mark, his mother, people at the bar, his best friend, his attorney, and as the end of the film reveals, the photographer he meets that sees his photos, the curator of the art gallery, and the director of this documentary.  All of them make up the cast of characters in Mark’s fictional town.  So too does the SS, the German hit squad, which Mark pretty much beats up whenever he needs to release any pent up anger.  The SS, as Mark reveals, represents the five men that attacked him outside of the bar in 2000.  Mark doesn’t know what he’ll do to them if he ever runs into them, but he knows he can focus his aggression in Marwencol.

The dilemma arises when the pictures he takes of his story in Marwencol ends up in the hands of a curator in an art gallery.  He wants to present it as art, and Mark has a crisis: whether his own therapy can be used as art?  As the film shows, the gallery is successful (it closed in late October, which I just discovered last week or else I would have investigated more and tried to make it to NYC to see it), and Mark, adventuring outside of his small New York town one hundred miles north of the city for the first time in years, is amazed and troubled in what he sees and how he should express himself (he has a high heel fetish, which may have been the catalyst for the attack).

Two things stand out while watching this documentary: how Mark uses his town as therapy and how real the pictures are.  For the former, he pretty much got his hands working again by manipulating all of the small pieces used in his town: the gun you see in the trailer, the straps for the grenade bags, the removable hands and heads and the constant moving and resetting of the characters.  As mentioned above, he interacts with the town in different ways, mostly for practical reasons, but at times for strange and weird reasons too (he does hope to meet his “Anna” someday, the doll that he married to his persona in the town).  It’s simply amazing what his imagination has done for him.

For the latter, it’s completely surrealistic art.  The trailer shows just a few pictures that he took for the various stories that occur in Marwencol, and it’s easy to see how life like they are.  I glanced at his most recent storyline on the website, entitled “Legends”, and it’s simply brilliant.  Is it weird?  Yes, obviously.  But it’s also very truthful and honest.  Mark is doing this because it’s what he’s become.  There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when he has no money to get himself actual therapy.  He took his rehabilitation into his own hands, and the result is Marwencol.

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Note: the website is http://www.marwencol.com.  Definitely check it out.

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