In the Realms of the Unreal

In the Realms of the Unre­al is a doc­u­men­tary on the life of out­sider artist Hen­ry Darg­er and is cur­rent­ly play­ing at the Cedar Lee. It is a great doc, with great ani­ma­tion and a great focus. Go catch it before it dis­ap­pears.

What made this doc so great is the fact that it prompt­ly shows the audi­ence that every­thing it is going to say is most­ly the sub­ject of spec­u­la­tion. No one is even sure on how to pro­nounce his last name. So the par­al­lels it draws between the life of Hen­ry Darg­er and his 15,000 page sto­ry of a child slave rebel­lion, while seem­ing­ly equiv­a­lent, are still obvi­ous sup­po­si­tion.

Darger’s ear­ly life had no sta­bil­i­ty, he was shut­tled around and cared for but seem­ing­ly nev­er loved. This must have caused him immense pain because his life’s work seems to be his own efforts at heal­ing him­self and com­ing to an under­stand­ing of who he is in his life. His art­work is at times vis­cer­al and ethe­re­al, just as his sto­ry seems at times like the fairy tales he loved as a child and at oth­ers like a first­hand account of a Civ­il War bat­tle.

At first blush you might think Darg­er is a man with no under­stand­ing of his fel­low humans, [as is evi­denced by an appar­ent igno­rance of female repro­duc­tive organs, his lit­tle girls have penis­es] and in a social and cul­tur­al sense this might have some valid­i­ty. But in the spheres of feel­ing and emo­tion, our own Realms of the Unre­al he seems to be able to evoke remem­ber­ances of child­hood, inno­cence, weak­ness, joy and ter­ror, no mat­ter how deeply hid­den.

The film itself is a pas­tiche of his writ­ings, ani­mat­ed and still ver­sions of his art, and first-hand accounts of the few peo­ple who lived near him. It is exact­ly long enough at 81 min­utes, and treats the sub­ject with respect but no real judg­ment. I want to see it again and will prob­a­bly get it on DVD.

Here is a bet­ter review with good links.