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Review

Film tears human soul to pieces

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December 9, 2010

This is the best movie I’ve reviewed this year. Here’s why: In April of 2000, Mark Hogancamp was dragged out of a bar in New York State and beaten so severely that he suffered irreversible brain damage and spent more than a week in a coma.

Upon regaining consciousness, Hogancamp faced the loss of his social skills, motor function and most of his memory.

Unable to afford proper rehabilitation therapy, he began building a model WWII-era Belgian village in his backyard as a means to re-hone his motor skills, concentration and imagination.

Hogencamp and his village are the subject of filmmaker Jeff Malmberg’s debut documentary, “Marwencol.”

The film explores Hogancamp’s life and his immersion into the Marwencol fantasy world.

Many of the dolls that populate the village are representations of Mark’s friends, neighbors and co-workers, which he arranges into scenes and photographs as documentation of the multiple storylines that he constantly invents for the characters that “live” in Marwencol.

Eventually Hogancamp receives an invitation to display his photographs in a big time art show in NYC, and faces a test of courage when he must decide if he will travel to the big city and return to the real world.

Many people have lauded this movie for its depiction of the resilience of the mind and spirit, and the human capacity for creativity. While all those things are definitely present and appealing, there is way more to this film.

I think it’s safe to assume that most of us have spent our entire lives cultivating our existence according to the way we imagine ourselves to be, or the way we wish others to imagine us.

In other words, we’ve each been working on ways to cope with our humanity since birth.

Hogancamp’s ability to cope with being alive was taken from him; his brain was essentially “reset.”

With no control or understanding of all the needs, wishes and confusion that go with being human, Hogancamp created Marwencol as a kind of safety net to collect all the humanity that was spilling out of him unchecked.

Marwencol isn’t just a model village,  but it’s also the incarnation of a human spirit; totally raw and unfiltered.

The characters in Marwencol fall in love with each other and protect each other and kill each other in breathtakingly vivid scenarios and storylines, all constructed in extreme detail and documented by the “brain-damaged,” yet unsettlingly insightful, Hogancamp.

While the inhabitants of the village are made of plastic, they radiate all the raw soul and emotion that Hogancamp didn’t know what else to do with.

“Marwencol” is certainly an inspiring story, that is totally touching, funny and entertaining.

The film’s real and almost overwhelming power lies in that it’s the most compelling argument for the existence of a human soul that I’ve ever seen.

Anthony Orlando is a math major and physics minor. He runs for the UW-River Falls cross country team. He once met Dan Auerbach and is a minor celebrity in Malaysia.