In the Realms of the Unreal

‘Reclusive janitor by day, visionary artist by night, outsider artist Henry Darger moved through life virtually unnoticed. But after his death, a treasure trove was discovered in his one-room Chicago apartment: a staggering 15,000-page novel and hundreds of illustrations that continue to inspire artists around the world.’

From the PBS P.O.V. web page on Jessica Yu’s film In the Realms of the Unreal, about Outsider Artist Henry Darger. The film had its television premiere last night. Yu controversially animated Darger’s work in order to bring it to life, but the visual effect is enjoyable. More problematic is the film’s emphasis on the “visionary” and the inspiring, as if Darger were a William Blake figure rather than a tormented soul and “sorry saint” who was compelled to work on art and writing by forces far beyond his control. Retreating into Darger’s fantasy world, the film neglects to interview the scholars, art historians, critics, and psychologists who have worked on Darger’s case. The end result is that Darger appears more as a misunderstood genius than a desperately lonely figure whose mental illness forced him to create grand, terrifying, and beautifully-colored fictional universes.