Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In the Realms of the Unreal

just so everyone knows, I'm ecstatic with myself for figuring out how to post something.


Watching In the Realms of the Unreal was visually like watching the thoughts of someone slightly mentally slow. This is good! Most of the images were stills, and the majority of those were paintings that Henry Darger (the deceased protagonist) had created. Each painting was digitally taken apart subject by subject and each piece was layered back onto the others so that the whole thing could be animated. Characters move, guns blast, and backgrounds change to the voice overs of the narrators. The animation is seriously impressive. Sometimes a dragon flies by in the sky in shots of the city. Once a child chases a ball across the screen while someone is talking. The viewer is watching images that don't seem like they should make sense with the narration, but they do. Darger's artwork is used throughout the film as metaphors for his life. The director, Jessica Yu, creates a documentary very true to her subject by breathing life into his own work. She presents Darger's obsession with his novel and paintings as he would have seen them-vibrant, living, and moving. 

You know straight from the beginning that Darger is dead and the people speaking (you don't see them for awhile) had no real understanding of their introverted, reclusive neighbor. Yu is able to re-create Darger's life with what was found in his room after his death-his writings, including an autobiography, his paintings, and his drawings. She begins the film with the end of his life then back tracks to a more linear timeline told with excerpts from his autobiography punctuated with commentary by Darger's neighbors and the narrators. Dakota Fanning is one such narrator and her creepy little voice fits perfectly in with Darger's child-obsessed life and work, little girls in particular. Note: he wasn't a pedophile, just a bit off-kilter in most imaginable ways. 

Yu does a fantastic job of creating a biography of a dead man. She gives us a man through his art and his own words, all found postmortem. Again, the animation is beautiful and the way Yu combines narrators, interviews and Darger's own words enables the viewer to feel like they know Darger and can appreciate his work and sad life more because of that. 


  1. Indeed, a great challenge to create a biographical documentary after someone has passed away, but given those limitations, Yu really does go far and beyond the conventional and it is a result of having no choice. Interesting.

  2. I saw In the Realms of the Unreal recently and, even though I was excited about watching the film, because of Jordan's discussion of it in class, I had no idea what to expect. I was emotionally floored. The film was at times charming, slightly creepy, devastating, and truly unreal.

    The readings of Darger's autobiography by Larry Pine brought Darger to life. He read them spectacularly. He read them in a personal way and I found myself forgetting that the voice was not Darger's, let alone that he probably would not have been comfortable reading his works for a documentary if they happened to have been found before his death. Through these readings, Darger became my friend. I knew his deepest, inner-workings, his secrets, and his hardships.

    Like the animation, I found the editing of the interviews of Darger's neighbors to be spectacular. As was mentioned, Darger's neighbors truly did not know their secretive neighbor. Yu took the interviews she had and used the little stories they gave her about Darger to mirror the stories he was writing. This gave Darger more depth than even his neighbors knew he had and somewhat explained a little more about the quiet man.
    The story that had the greatest impact on me **SPOILER** was about a time Darger asked his landlord how much it costs to own a dog. Darger his whole life seemed to just want something to share his love with and to take care of. His landlord told him it cost about $35 a month and he said well, that's just too much for me. This simple, short story resonated in the film and Yu knew her subjects well enough to pick it out and place it where it would have the most impact.

    After Darger's death, his room and works were displayed as an exhibit of Outsider Art and has since been an influential figure in contemporary art.