Robert Zemeckis’s live action Toy Story effect is sound. However, in Welcome to Marwen it raises disturbing questions when Steve Carell plays with them.
Mark Hogancamp (Carell) takes pictures of action figures acting out World War II fantasies. This is true. The real Hogancamp’s art that helped him cope with a traumatic head injury was documented in the film Marwencol.
What’s made up in the Hollywood version are the specific stories he tells about Cap’n Hogie and the women warriors of Marwen. Hollywood’s Mark Hogancamp sure imagines his fantasy women getting raped a lot.
Or rather, he imagines himself saving women from rape a lot. He rescues Elsa (Siobhan Williams) from a Nazi “sausage party” (because isn’t that cute?), and later Roberta (Merritt Wever) gets her blouse ripped open so the nipple-less breasts of the doll are exposed. Her top is still ripped open the next time we cut back to Marwen.
So Hollywood’s Mark Hogancamp wants to be the protector of defiled women. First of all, this is a dangerous savior myth. Second of all, he’s creating the story in which they are raped. Third, this is Hollywood’s idea of empowering a real life survivor.
The real Mark Hogancamp did include a catfight bar, which is fetishizing woman on woman violence, but he gets a pass. Robert Zemeckis choosing to change it to rape is troubling.
The women in Mark’s real life don’t fare much better. Nicol (Leslie Mann) moves in next door and Mark begins obsessing over her and making a Marwen doll for her.
When introduced to Mark, Nicol thinks it’s sweet that he added her to his Nazi fantasy. No, Nicol. Get out!
By the way, the Col in Marwencol actually stood for Colleen. Not only was Nicol not part of the true story, but to make her fit they had to misspell Nicole.
The real Colleen was happily married, so Mark accepted her friendship, so her inclusion in Marwen was harmless. Nicol is single with an abusive stalker ex, presented as a dangling carrot for Mark and I mean that in all the senses the movie underserves its female characters.
Then Mark watches a VHS porno that they made exclusively for Welcome to Marwen. Leslie Zemeckis (Robert’s wife) plays the porn star!
Nothing against porn stars. Many of them are empowered, but I don’t think they’d approve of being portrayed as a cheesy vehicle for Mark’s increasingly confusing fantasies.
The fantasies of Marwen are pretty violent. I could maybe see that Mark would use violence to cope with the violence he suffered, but Welcome to Marwen is more tonally confused than Small Soldiers, but without that film’s pure commercialism. This is vying for awards.
There’s a lot of violent gunfights, still bloody with animated dolls, plus extra kill shots. One nazi gets split in half, another impaled. Sure, they’re Nazis, but what are you actually saying with these fantasy sequences?
Are they childlike? Are they graphically traumatic? Perhaps they could be both (kids do play rough), but I’m not convinced Welcome to Marwen even understands why Mark is having these fantasies. I think they just saw the doc and thought, “Hey, we could also animate them!”
Mark’s were bloody too, but the documentary eased into the gory aftermaths of his stories. Welcome to Marwen leads with blood and compounded with the sexual violence, just seems to relish in it.
I get that Cap’n Hogie is the hero who overcomes what the “real” Mark can’t face. He’s not really, though. He relies on his sexed up fantasy women with machine guns, and a demon named Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger) is the forced metaphor for him to overcome.
Deja was in the documentary too but very minimally. The screenwriters really latched onto her to make an antagonist for the fantasy.
There is even a Back to the Future reference that rubbed me the wrong way. Zemeckis has been so adamant that there would never be a Back to the Future IV, but using it as a toy in his Oscar bait movie feels like more of a sellout than the De Lorean in Ready Player One.
Welcome to Marwen is one of the worst movies of the year. To use such professional resources to promote such dangerous messages is just appalling.
Welcome to Marwen opens Friday, December 21.