UnrealJessica Yu brings us the life of Henry Darger through her documentary, IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL. Darger is the foremost modern day "outsider artist." His life reads like an Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for just that: self-taught (check), shitty menial job his entire lifs (check), obsessive dedication to the artwork (check), no friends (check), others discovery of art when it is too late (check), and extreme life circumstances (check).
Beyond interviews with those who were acquainted with Darger, Yu uses his letters, his artwork, his autobiography, his 15,000 page novel (perhaps the longest novel ever written) and the only two photos of Darger that are known to be in existence to try to understand his life and the art that he dedicated himself to. Questions of his motivations are discussed, but no one can fully understand what inspired him and his social isolation during his life. In one segment, people who have known him throughout his life say his lastname, in a collage of voices - the piece speaks volumes that there is no consensus on the pronunciation of Darger.
With a deft hand Yu brings to life, through animation, the fantastical images that Darger left in an apartment in Chicago after he vacated. Through voiceovers by Dakota Fanning and Larry Pine, the story of the Vivian Girls (the protagonists in Darger's work) and Darger himself are explored as a character study. Ultimately one can only use conjecture to understand the motivations of Darger - religion, abandonement, child abuse, cynical/sarcastic view on life, a child-like understanding of the world - all these probably had some hand in fashioning the life that Darger chose to lead and inspired him in the artwork he did, but we'll never know.
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