A review of ďIn the Realms of the UnrealĒ by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: Not rated; shows artwork depicting violence and nudity

Run Time: 1 hour, 22 minutes


Gunn High School grad Jessica Yu may be best known for her Oscar-acceptance quip about her dress costing more than her movie (1997ís documentary short Breathing Lessons).Nice to know that thereís a sense of humor accompanying such enormous talent.

Yuís latest documentary is a tribute to eccentric recluse and visionary artist Henry Darger, a tormented soul who amassed a staggering collection of writings and paintings before his death in 1973.

Darger was the unremarkable sort, the kind of man who stuck to himself and let no one in.As a child he was bounced from home to home, landing in an asylum for feeble-minded children where he lived out his formative years before he finally escaped to Chicago.

It was there that Darger found work as a janitor, a blue-collar position he held most of his life.Darger was a genuine eccentric, a man who lived parallel lives.His was a terribly lonely existence on the outside and a wildly vivid one in his mind and his art.

Realms chronicles this fascinating artistic journey that culminated in a 15,000 page, single-spaced novel (In the Realms of the Unreal), volumes and volumes of drawings, collages, and journals, and hundreds of watercolors, some over 10-feet long and inventively astounding in color and content.All discovered after his death by the landlady who entered his rented room to clean up.

Much of Dargerís work contains disturbing images of female children; winged, at play, in harm, and often drawn with penises. His stable of insurgent children are innocents who live in the constant shadow of danger.Dargerís now infamous novel details the adventurous exploits of the Vivian Girls, seven sisters who lead a rebellion against evil, child-enslaving men.

Yuís information-laden project is slow to warm, but when it does it digs deep into the soul of this deranged and gifted artist by means of narrative voice-over (courtesy of child star Dakota Fanning, whose childlike lilt lies in uneasy contrast to the mature subject matter, and actor Larry Pine), interviews with acquaintances and animation using only Dargerís work as its broad canvas.

A mature, provocative blend of the homespun and the disconcerting.