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Art, Isolation, and the Unreal World Within.
on June 24, 2005
"In the Realms of the Unreal" explores the life and work of Henry Darger, a reclusive Chicago janitor who died in 1973, leaving behind 30,000 pages of writings and hundreds of pieces of artwork which no one knew existed while he lived. Director Jessica Yu approaches Darger's story from three points of view: that of Henry, himself, which he recorded in an autobiography; how those who knew him saw Henry; and the story told in Henry's magnum opus, a 15,000-page novel, laboriously entitled "The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion".
Larry Pine provides Henry's voice, as he narrates his Dickensonian childhood and youth, thorough an adulthood of self-imposed isolation and struggles with faith, to this reluctant retirement. Luckily, his autobiography is frank, because Henry avoided interaction with people and spent every spare moment in his room creating the universe of his novel. Interviews with neighbors, landlords, and acquaintances allow us to see Henry as others did. As Henry's life unfolds, his novel, which he began in 1909 at the age of 17, progresses. The book is about a war between the Christian nation of Abbieannia and the land of Glandelinia, where children are enslaved. The heroes are the 7 cheeky, brave, and saint-like Vivian girl princesses, who lead the child slave rebellion. The novel is narrated by Dakota Fanning. And animators have brought Darger's fascinating illustrations to life in stunning visuals.
Jessica Yu is to be commended for encouraging viewers to come to their own conclusions about Henry Darger. The vibrancy, overwhelming innocence, and creativity of Darger's artwork has made it valuable today. But the artist chose to exist primarily within a fantasy of his own making, writing and painting only for himself. To me, the most fascinating aspect of Henry Darger's work is that it seems like a complete account of someone's fantasy life -which is a rare thing to find. Artists may wonder at the implications of Henry's creating art for "an audience of one". "In the Realms of the Unreal" is an intriguing, beautiful look at art, isolation, and the world within.
The DVD (Wellspring 2005): Bonus features include an interview with director Jessica Yu, some black and white storyboards, a "Photo Gallery" of 6 pieces of Darger's artwork, and a "Director's Filmography". In the "Filmmaker Interview" (30 minutes), Jessica Yu talks about Darger's art, his imaginary world, her approach to telling his story, and making the film. The interview is interesting but much too long.