Henry Darger, an elderly recluse, spent his childhood in Illinois's asylum for feeble-minded children and his adulthood working as a janitor. He lived a quiet, nearly solitary existence, but his imaginary life was exciting... more », colorful and sexually provocative. When he died in Chicago in 1973, his landlady discovered in his room 300 paintings, some over 10 feet long, and a 15,000-page illustrated novel (The Realms of the Unreal), which told the epic story of the virtuous Vivian Girls leading a child slave revolt against the evil Glandelinians. Featuring Dakota Fanning (Hide and Seek) and Larry Pine (The Royal Tenenbaums) as narrators and imaginative animation of Darger's work, Oscar® winner Jessica Yu (Breathing Lessons) brings to life one of the twentieth century's greatest self-taught artists.« less
Jeff V. (burielofmel) from HARRIMAN, TN Reviewed on 11/15/2008...
This documentary is about a reclusive man named Henry Darger. He spent most of his life alone except for one friend who died. He even chose not to get a dog when he found out it would cost $5 a month to care for it. Henry spent his decades of seclusion creating his own world, one which he wrote about in a 15,000 page novel and which he illustrated with hundreds of pieces of art, many 10 feet long. The story of Henry's strange life and the epic story he wrote is told mostly through voice over and images of his art animated. There are also interviews and a voice over by Dakota Fanning. If you're into true stories of the creativity that sometimes comes with madness, you will likely find this documentary to your liking.
2 of 5 member(s) found this review helpful.
The ultimate outsider
tmp | Solar System, MA USA | 03/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Jessica Yu has crafted a fascinating look at the life and work of Henry Darger, a reclusive Chicago janitor, living in near-poverty who created an illustrated 15-something thousand page novel (among other works) titled "The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm". "Realms" tells the story of the Vivian Girls: seven sisters fighting the evil, child-enslaving Glandelinians, illustrated with over 300 works of art. Amazingly, this huge body of work was discovered after Darger's death in his small room by his landlords. Even more amazingly, his landlords recognized that they had something of value, and kept the works intact.
Yu makes some very interesting choices presenting Darger's life. First, defying convention, she doesn't trot out the usual suspects of art critics and psychologists to tell us what were supposed to be thinking about Darger's life and work; she interviews the people who interacted with him (notice I didn't use the word "knew"- none of them can agree what he was like). Even his landlady, who housed him for decades admits that nobody really knew him. Second, she opens out Darger's art by animating it; a risky choice that pays off. The animated portions of the film bring the other-wordliness of Darger's art out in a way that static shots never could.
Lastly, pitch-perfect readings of Darger's work (by Larry Pine, Dakota Fanning, and others) really help give this film a feeling that is as magical, disturbing, sad and beautiful as Darger's work itself.
The movie is in limited release around the country. I urge you to see it. If you're in New York, go to the Folk Art Museum and see Darger's work. It's incredible stuff, and even more incredible when you realise what Darger might have given up to create them."
Art, Isolation, and the Unreal World Within.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 06/24/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
""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."
Yu's Amazing Trip Into Henry Darger
Mona Pierpaoli | Outside the wall. | 05/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Within Yu's invigorating movie we take an extremely intense and magical trip into the litte-known art of Henry Darger. In The Realms of The Unreal introduces us to the brooding and often horrific mind of Henry Darger which is brought to life by amazing voice actors such as Dakota Fanning and Larry Pine.
Yu's treatment of Henry's art is just as sensitive (and engrossing) as her treatment of his art. The surreal dream-like landscapes that Henry Darger created in his huge novel are animated perfectly by Yu. Birds streak across technicolor skies while the children of Albeannia fight the evil Glandelinians in startling motion.
Never before has Darger's life and art been so sensitively told, and I highly suggest this movie to anyone interested in art of any kind. Darger's work is now imitated by thousands of artists across the world and his subversive and disturbing imagery is entirely unqiue and very exciting to see. Not only does Yu truly do justice to this art (she shows at least half of Darger's work) but she uses it to tell the heartbreaking story of a man who only wanted a person to love.
Yu has created a truly great movie and it is, most definitely, a must buy.
A moving, powerful exploration of one man's remarkable inner
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 05/04/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I realized while watching this film that I first heard of Henry Darger only a few blocks from where he lived and worshipped. I had taken my daughter to guitar lessons at the former location of the Old Town School of Folk Music, about three blocks south from the address listed as Darger's address on the letter in the film he wrote expressing sorrow over his friend's death. The church at which he worshipped is only a few blocks west of that address. I write this only a few blocks from St. Joseph's Hospital, where Darger worked as a janitor for many years. All of this brings his story home to me in a particularly poignant way. My neighborhood was also his.
Darger is, of course, one of the best known and most celebrated outsider artists, the author of a staggeringly large illustrated novel IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL, about a war between Christian and anti-Christian forces in a make believe land. The most compelling part of Darger's story is that he was completely untrained as an artist and writer and that except for a single friend was a lifelong recluse. His neighbors and the few who knew him elsewhere had no idea that he was the author of a 15,000 page illustrated novel.
The filmmaker made several interesting decisions in making the documentary, all of which I think were done successfully. No critics or experts or outside commentators were employed. All interviews were with people who knew Darger, including the landlady who helped preserve Darger's room after realizing what he had achieved there. There are actors who portray Darger and who read passages from Darger's work, but no art critics. The narration is by the then very young Dakota Fanning, appropriate given Darger's fascination with young girls. More controversially, the director decided to animate many of his images, of which more below.
Anyone viewing this film will get a good sense of what Darger's work is about. There are sadly no books in print summarizing his work or giving good examples of it. The books that have been produced are all out of print. By any measure Darger's story is an amazing one and it deserves to be even more widely known than it is. The film also brings out both Darger's virtues as an artist and his quirks. One of the best examples of the latter is that he may not have had a very good understanding of female anatomy, always drawing nude female figures (as an expression of innocence) with decidedly male genitalia.
Finally, to the reviewers who are outraged that the filmmaker manipulated Darger's paintings to create animated images I can only ask: precisely what is the problem? One reviewer says that this manipulation violates a sacred rule. Where, precisely is that rule articulated? And what could possibly make it sacrosanct? I actually think that the animation of his paintings made them more visually interesting for the medium in which they were being presented. Would I want this in a book of his work? Of course not. But whatever imaginary sins were committed were obscure to me. The manipulation of Darger's images were always deeply respectful and loving. The critics here are acting as if the filmmaker was sinning against Darger instead of affectionately trying to tell his story. They may not like the decision that was made, but there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong in it."