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.