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.