The True Story Behind ‘Welcome To Marwen’ Will Break Your Heart & Then Fix It Again

In a biopic that hits theaters on Dec. 21, Steve Carell plays as an assault survivor with a unique passion. Welcome to Marwen tells the true story of artist and photographer Mark Hogancamp, who created a fake world to help himself cope with the aftermath of a hate crime committed against him. It will remind you of both the best and worst sides of humanity, and it gives Carell yet another opportunity to show off his dramatic chops.

In 2000, Hogancamp was attacked by a group of five men after he'd told them that he liked to dress in nylons and heels, The Guardian reported. The attack, which took place outside of a bar in Kingston, NY, landed Hogancamp in a coma for nine days, per The New York Times, and he'd suffered brain damage, memory loss, and PTSD. After spending a year in physical therapy to re-learn how to walk, he'd lost his healthcare support and was left to his own devices, which, as you can guess, made Hogancamp feel even more dejected.

Speaking to The Guardian, Hogancamp, a former member of the U.S. Navy, said, "When my therapy was cut off I hated every man on Earth. I felt like I’d been kicked out of the tribe of men on planet Earth. But after a month of hating everything I thought, ‘I have to do something or else this hate and anger is going to build up and kill me.’ I needed to do something."

So began the creation of Marwencol, a miniature world made of dolls that Hogancamp imagines as a town in Belgium during World War II. He began configuring his doll characters into scenes, and then taking pictures of them. As the official Marwencol website explains, the figurines represent real people from Hogancamp's life, including his attackers, his friends, his family, and himself.

Per The Times, the photos that Hogancamp took of Marwencol eventually caught the eye of photographer David Naugle, who helped Hogancamp get his photos of the fictional land featured in various galleries. Then, in 2010, the miniature world and its creator became the subject of the documentary Marwencol, which introduces the various characters and events that Hogancamp imagines and simulates with his figurines.

In the film, Hogancamp assigns dolls to represent women in his life — characters played by Leslie Mann, Janelle Monáe, Eiza González, Diane Kruger, Gwendoline Christie, and Merritt Wever. Animated sequences represent what goes on in Hogancamp's imagined alternate reality, so audiences can see the world as he does.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Carell recalled meeting Hogancamp while preparing for the role. "He's kind and generous, he's a special person. He literally healed himself, he turned something very ugly into something really beautiful," the actor said. As much as Welcome to Marwen might show you the dark depths of what hatred can cause, it ultimately highlights the life-affirming powers of imagination and creativity. And Hogancamp's alternate world is a great — and quirky — example of human resiliency.