Marwencol: A model WWII-era town is the backdrop for an unfolding narrative

In Excerpts, Thoughts on May 22, 2011 at 6:50 am

Model building, I once thought, was just the tedium of young 4Hers across the country, a 20th-century hobby for kids with too much patience and parents who wouldn’t buy them video games. I didn’t play a lot of video games as a kid, but I didn’t put together many models either. I got bored even with rockets, which only had about five pieces, plus a handful of decals to slick on to the shaft and the nose cone. But for Mark Hogancamp, model building became an alternate reality—after his was violently destroyed.

“After being beaten into a brain-damaging coma by five men outside a bar,” writes the maker of a film about Mark, “Mark [built] a 1/6th scale World War II-era town in his backyard.” He named the town Marwencol, and filled it with action figures representing his friends and family. Mark then began photographing the town, which became a set for the unfurling dramas that played out among the pseudo-fictional townspeople.

Wired ran a story on Mark, explaining more:

“When Hogancamp emerged from a 9-day coma, he had no language, he could not walk and he could not eat without assistance. For twelve months, the ex-Navy man received state-sponsored physical and occupational therapy and regained many of his motor skills. Without medical insurance, however, Hogancamp was soon unable to afford the treatments. Lacking conventional rehabilitation, Hogancamp devised his own.

In Marwencol, Hogancamp’s avatar, Hogie, is assassinated and brought back to life by the town witch. He is tortured by the S.S. and then rescued at the last minute by three gun-toting women. Hogie is saved in a way Hogancamp could not be in real life. In place of real-world counselors and therapists, Hogancamp has created hundreds of imaginary ones.”

I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m fascinated by this built-environment therapy. Could the world’s wounded recover more quickly and more completely if they too could build a fictional place in which to work out the effects of their trauma? Or is Mark an isolated case, where his interests and talent met the violence of the attack in an irreplicable rehabilitation?

Perhaps I’ll post a follow-up after I see the movie. In the meantime, check out the Wired story and the documentary’s website.


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