Welcome to Marwen, a based on true life feature about an artist forced to create new art and a new persona when a savage attack leaves him devoid of all personal memories and artistic ability, recreates the story and photos, but leaves the real Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) life and art on the cutting room floor. How odd for an artist to become the major deleted scene in the film story of his life, reduced to those few who have seen the acclaimed documentary about Hogancamp or have read the now discounted book co-authored with Chris Shellen or who googled Hogancamp and stumbled on his site on museums.co.
The real disappointment of Welcome to Marwen isn’t in how it suffers dramatic inertia when it tries to depict Hogancamp’s life and PTSD as a man who either withdraws into his Marwen WWII fantasy world when confronted with major conflict and choice or scampers away like a frightened little boy. Steve Carell’s performance is reduced to heroic macho bravado when in Marwen state and a tired series of angst driven tics and stuttering replies when just plain recovering Mark.
Nor is the real disappointment of Welcome to Marwen in how it nulls out Hogancamp’s art to zero and his post trauma biography to a feminist story about how it takes a caring female village to raise up an emotionally crippled man.
Hogancamp’s photos have a gritty reality given poetic dimensions because they are both broken dolls standing in for some real broken human beings and also stark expressions of Hogancamp’s actual neuroses, conflicts and fears presented in graphic novel form. None of Hogancamp’s photos make it into the final cut, only the director’s Robert Zemekis PG-13 recreations, while the village of women are only peripheral minor characters in Hogancamp’s story book.
The real disappointment of Welcome to Marwen is how Robert Zemekis diminishes the man, his art and Zemekis’ own brilliant work with the need to streamline everything to fit Marwen’s high concept audience expectations. Welcome to Marwen is good CGI ruined by an artistic failure of nerve. It is a film made by a director with a few box office failures behind him who desperately grasps for the safe choice rather than the great one.
All photos courtesy of Universal Pictures.