Monday, November 22, 2010


Ten years ago, Mark Hogancamp was attacked outside of a bar by 5 men. He was badly beaten and nearly died. It took 9 days for him to wake up after the attack and as a result Mark lost most of his memories and had severely impaired motor function. For his own therapy, physical as well as emotional, Mark created his own world which he calls Marwencol.

Marwencol is a fictional 1/6 scale WWII era Belgium town. The town's inhabitants are all dolls. Mark has created a doll for himself (named Hogie) and many of his family and friends are also represented. Mark poses the dolls in various scenes and then takes photos to tell the story. His storyline: Nazis, romance, torture, a time traveling witch (?).

His dolls and props are made to be very realistic. To enhance this effect, Mark actually places his characters in his model jeep and pulls it along side him when he takes a walk, giving them authentic wear and tear.

A local photographer saw Mark walking with his jeep and asked Mark what he was doing. Mark then shared his photographs. This discovery has led to a lot of publicity for Marwencol, including an art show in New York and now a documentary. Unfortunately the documentary is only playing in a select few cities nation wide and Kansas City is not one of them. But the trailer gives you a good feel (below).

So my question, after looking through some of the Marwencol photos is, when does this therapy cross the line and become pathological? The photos are wonderful. The scenes Mark puts together are amazingly life-like. But many of the scenes are about murder and torture. Hogie's wedding scene had dead Nazis hung up in the back ground. I just couldn't help but think that the Nazis are perhaps the 5 men who took his life away. Is he really just reliving his trauma over and over rather than adjusting his life to move past it? Making his make believe world exactly what he wants his real world to be?

On the other hand, maybe this is giving him the only life that he would be able to have. Maybe without it he wouldn't have a reason to go on after the terrible trauma he went through. If living in his own world is the only thing that is keeping him going, who am I to say that it's bad?

The Marwencol website gallery posts some of Mark's photos along with his captions to tell the stories. In the last postings, Hogie and his wife Anna (apparently in the image of his ex-wife) have been assassinated. The following is the collected captions of this most recent installment. I leave you with this because I think it says a lot.

"Meanwhile the SS are downstairs having drinks. They're celebrating that the King and Queen of Marwencol are dead. Now it's easy to take over the townspeople-they don't have leaders or anything. Then Anna and I stick our heads over the railing of the balcony. We look down at the Nazis down there. And they look up and they're floored. And Anna and I hug. And the Nazis realize that they can't kill me. They can't kill Anna or I because we're going to live forever. We're immortal. I won."

5 Responses to “Marwencol”

Christian Sinclair said...
November 22, 2010 at 10:08 PM

Oh my goodness. Reading your post and watching that trailer was chilling. Thanks for posting this Amber. I will keep an eye out for this if it ever comes through Kansas City or eventually on Netflix.

Risa Denenberg said...
November 22, 2010 at 11:42 PM

I was able to see the film at the Seattle Film Festival this year. It was an amazing documentary made by a sensitive filmmaker and Mark is an amazing man. There is a lot more to the story, in that Mark is a cross-dresser, undoubtedly why he was attacked in that bar. In the debut showing of his gallery in NYC, he comes in drag and high heels, it's a remarkable triumph for him. We all work out our demons as best we can. I was very moved by the film. Thanks for posting this.

Amber Wollesen, MD said...
November 23, 2010 at 6:02 AM

Thanks for commenting Christian and risaden.

Thanks for the info risaden. I think that make his chosen alter ego even more interesting.

Jay Riseman said...
November 23, 2010 at 9:34 AM

It seems sick to me that someone would need to continue to live almost completely in a dreamworld. I hope that Mark is able to move on some time in his life. it appears that he was troubled before he was assaulted and now may be even more troubled.

Risa Denenberg said...
November 23, 2010 at 10:21 AM

Jay- au contraire! I think of Mark as an artist, living out a marvelously creative life, making something meaningful out of his suffering. Sort of like palliative care maybe?