Marwencol: A Wake-Up Call

This morning I watched a documentary by the name of “Marwencol”.  Fifteen minutes in, I started to take notes because I knew I had to write an article about this man.  Mark Hogancamp.

A few years ago, 5 men jumped Mark outside of a bar and beat every memory out of his head.  He slipped into a coma for 9 days and after an extended stay, was asked to leave the hospital because his Medicaid refused to pay for anymore treatment or care.  Same went for his physical therapy.

Mark (who bears a striking resemblance to Dustin Hoffman) had to learn to walk, talk, eat, read….like he’d become an infant all over again at the age of 38.  But the human spirit is a resilient being.  The first thing Mark fought to save was his imagination.  Even Einstein knew that imagination was far more important than knowledge.

So Mark went about constructing a minature  1/6th scale WorldWar II-era town in his backyard and began filling it with dolls who represented those who meant the most to him….and those who didn’t.  He dubbed his fantasy world “Marwencol” and the drama ensued from there.  And when I say drama….this place is like a vintage Peyton Place.  But within this world, Mark began to heal.  He unleashed his anger in the form of military torture.  He found love and redemption…and revenge.  All without hurting another human mentally or physically.

But he didn’t just build a town with some dolls and trees.  He began posing and creating scenes that told intricately woven stories, then pain-stakingly photographed each scene.  He wasn’t using a high-priced camera with a fancy lense and tripod.  He mailed away his film to be developed and if the pictures didn’t turn out right…if they were blurry or the exposure was off….he’d simply go back and shoot everything all over again.  He didn’t keep any negatives…he just put all the photographs in a cardboard box.

Mark in no way thought of himself as an artist.  He had simply found a way of coping.  Jeff Malmberg, director of “Marwencol”,  found Mark after watching him pull a toy jeep filled with dolls holding firearms up and down a road. After seeing Mark’s work, he knew he had to share it with the world.  A New York gallery owner caught wind of Mark’s work and went about setting up a show featuring Marwencol.

All professional success aside…it was the moxy of his spirit and soul that had me at hello.  The stronger part of him that talked the dark side into playing with some dolls.  His determination to be himself and realize he wasn’t accountable for the reactions and feelings of other people’s opinion of him.

As a child, I spent the majority of my time in a fantasy world that I’d created to escape a traumatic childhood and I stayed there until my late teens.  I shut everything down, turned off the lights and walked out….because grown-ups don’t live in imaginary worlds.  They ridicule and chastize those who do.  So for the better part of the past three years, I’ve been struggling to un-earth that vivid imagination and begin writing from that place of unpolluted innocence. I’m slowly getting there.  Slowly.  Maybe if I could go play dolls with Mark, I’d tap into what I buried so long ago.

Perhaps playing is the key.  Remember when you were a kid and just hearing someone say, “You wanna play?” was magical?  I think that as adults, we secretly long to cross over into a magical realm where unicorns are real and sticks have magical powers.  Where villians need conquered and princesses need saving.

Mark was able to recapture his birthright.  His imagination.  He didn’t need a high priced shrink or piles of medication.  It would behoove us all to follow in his footsteps.  It shouldn’t take a broken mind to find this magical place.  It takes an open mind.  Completely open.

So without even knowing or realizing it, Mark and his beloved Marwencol has encouraged me to keep digging my way back to the beginning.  For I believe it is THERE where I will find my true path forward.

“I shut my eyes in order to see.”  ~ Paul Gauguin

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