I caught a glimpse of the fascinating, yet decidedly odd, documentary "Marwencol" at the Independent Spirit Awards this year and have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to view it. Hard to categorize, this tale of persevering and triumphing over tragedy has all the earmarks of a feel good story of uplift, but has such a melancholy sadness underneath the surface--it is bound to elicit conflicting emotions within different viewers. One thing, however, that is impossible to deny--the subject matter is strikingly unique and extremely personal. The film profiles a contemporary artist Mark Hogancamp. After a brutal beating, Hogancamp suffered brain damage, a disruption of motor functions and a great deal of memory loss. When his therapy treatment ended, he continued to pursue an alternate course to wellness. Devising a fantasy world inhabited by dolls, he created a World War II village and envisioned a fantastical back story about its inhabitants. With himself playing the lead (he and his friends are all represented in the tableau by alter ego dolls), he enacted love and retribution in a land torn with violence.
He also painstakingly and meticulously photographed his world--and this surprisingly original voice was soon discovered by the contemporary art scene. A reluctant talent, to be sure, the project took on levels of interest that he could never have originally foreseen. The film is, first and foremost, an exploration of the artistic process and a modern character study. It's fascinating to see how real life occurrences materialize as dramatic plot points within his imagination. And that's what he's most proud of--he hasn't lost the ability to imagine. But despite the successes, his loneliness and sadness never seem far removed--and yet he continues on, yearning for connections in the real world as strong as those he has created. The art work, itself, is fascinating stuff and beautifully rendered.
The film is alternately amusing and disturbing--an intriguing combination. We get to see a fully formed Mark Hogancamp complete with eccentricities and moments of brilliant insight. For me, however, I'd have liked a bit more content about life before the attack. We don't get a lot of back story and what we do get points to an unhappy and repressed alcoholic existence. And as the violent episode redefined the man (he no longer drinks, yet maintains other unorthodox proclivities), perhaps the film stands as a testament of something greater. Not just to survive a beating and to come out intact, but a realignment of a life in free fall. But without any real insight into the demons Hogancamp faced prior to the incident, we'll never realize how truly different a man he has become. Still, a fascinating and unusual peek inside a realm that borders both madness and genius--this should be appreciated by documentary and independent film lovers. KGHarris, 4/11.