The Marvellous World of Marwen: How Babes & Bullets Can Heal PTSD. (Mental Health/Film Review)

Having recently relocated to a more centralized location in downtown Toronto, I am constantly gobsmacked by the constant re-modelling of urban landscape. Even more so, the speed that which it occurs. While it is certainly impressive to take in the intricate network of metallic scaffolding and the massive cranes that look downward at emerging towers the same way a young mother might look down at her own newborn creation – it is what precedes this stage that concerns me more.

An official looking notice (you can tell its official, because it usually says: OFFICIAL NOTICE at the top) is placed prominently in front of an unsuspecting structure, advising passersby that a much newer, much better building will be built in its stead. Then, it often feels like maybe only a week later, the entire city block is decimated.  At one time, it could well have been someone’s dream home or hard-earned shop. An entire life story. Now all that’s left is just a pile of bricks, mounds of dust and faded memories.

Everything can change in an instant. The gentle passing of time on a wound up wristwatch can also be the countdown to tragedy,  time ticking backwards on an explosive device. Mark Hogancamp found this out the hard way. Inside a bar with a drink in his hand, moments later, on the ground. Surrounded on all sides. Beaten to a pulp.

When he woke up, Mark was a different person, with no knowledge of the event. Even more chillingly; no knowledge of who he was.  Faced with a world that all but crumbled away, he made a decision to build a new one.  This time, out of dolls and army toys.

While this genre of therapy might seem unconventional at first glance, it isn’t unheard of. In fact, art therapy techniques such as this one might actually be catching on in some circles.  While conducting research for a course I’m pursuing on therapeutic arts, I discovered a Ted Talk featuring Melissa Walker, a creative arts therapist who employs the use of masks to help war veterans combat PTSD.

And yet, art isn’t just a way to treat PTSD. There are different types of creative outlets that can successfully help those suffering from a smorgasbord of mental health challenges. Rachel Lindsay, a cartoonist and art instructor penned a graphic memoir detailing her struggles with Bipolar disorder. RX: A Graphic Memoir released earlier this year, profiles her experiences in vivid detail.  According to a recent profile in The Cut:

 …the cartoonist and doctor Ian Williams, who in 2012 coined the phrase “graphic medicine,” says that part of the phenomenon’s appeal is that comics allow artists to “reclaim” their own story by “wrestling some of the power away from the experts.” 

There are moments for all of us that can devastate.  But if we are strong enough, if we are brave enough, if we have enough patience and dedication, we can rebuild.  Taller and stronger than ever before.

If you are interested in Mark Hogancamp’s story, be sure to check out Marwencol, the original documentary released in 2010 and directed by Jeff Malmberg and Welcome to Marwencol; an art book released in 2015 by Hogancamp and Chris Shellan.

Welcome To Marwen stars Steve Carell and is directed by Robert Zemekis. It is currently playing in theatres.

Images courtesy Welcome To Marwen.


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