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article imageReview: ‘Welcome to Marwen’ makes it easy to get lost in the fantasy Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Dec 31, 2018 in Entertainment
‘Welcome to Marwen’ is based on the true story of a man whose trauma turns him toward art, but emphasizes the imaginative parts of the story over the facts.
Traumatic experiences can leave mental and physical scars that may never be healed. As a result, people find coping mechanisms to help them get through day-to-day living and deal with more significant spells of feeling overwhelmed. These devices are not always tangible to others, but the only thing that matters is that it helps the survivor get through whatever difficulty they’re feeling. In Welcome to Marwen, a man’s strategy for dealing with the world after a brutal attack is to build his own mini world, which in turn produces a safe environment for him and art to be enjoyed by everyone else.
After confessing he enjoys wearing women’s shoes one night at the bar, Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) is attacked by a gang of men and beaten within an inch of his life. Following an extensive healing period, Mark found reintegrating into the world difficult so he retreated into one from his imagination. Using handmade sets around his home and high-end dolls, he photographs stories featuring Cap'n Hogie, a WWII hero who fights the Nazis with the help of a group of powerful women who occupy the fictional town of Marwen. However, there are two external events pressing in on his fantasy: the sentencing of his assailants and the opening of his art show, both of which he’s expected to attend. And then there’s the arrival of Mark’s attractive new neighbour, Nichol (Leslie Mann), which is blurring the lines between reality and make-believe.
Director Robert Zemeckis has demonstrated his fondness for computer-generated narratives with films such as The Polar Express and Beowulf. Therefore, it’s not surprising that his approach to Hogie’s adventures is several short, animated movies within the overarching film, as well as real-life interruptions by the animated figures. The doll actors resemble their real-life counterparts, but with a more plastic quality to their features. The picture opens with a fighter plane taking heavy fire and the pilot, who looks a lot like Carell but not quite, crash landing. However, the next scene reveals it’s just an animated action figure that looks like the actor in one of Mark’s storylines rather than a fact-based flashback.
In spite of their fictional foundation, the realistic features of the toys makes it easy to become as engrossed in their plot as Mark’s. As the story goes on, it becomes clearer how he is using these narratives to work through what happened to him… even if that reasoning doesn’t fit with the real Mark’s experience. However, in spite of the connection between the real and imaginary storylines, they feel like they are competing for the audience’s attention. Fortunately, the expert editing makes the transitions between worlds smooth, but it can’t entirely mask the sense that you are leaving one realm for another and vice versa.
Carell’s portrayal of these odd, monochromatic men is starting to feel like typecasting. He does an excellent job playing them and this role has its own eccentricities as well as a voice acting component, but there are still some similarities to Foxcatcher’s John du Pont. In addition, the release of the documentary prior to this picture means many viewers may look at this version more critically and have less appreciation for the artistic license Zemeckis took with the story.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann and Janelle Monáe
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