In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger
Henry Darger was a Chicago janitor. Unable to relate to people, he lived alone. Upon his death in 1973 at the age of 81, his landlady discovered his life’s work, hidden in his room. Darger, now considered a giant of “outsider art,” produced a 15,000-word novel, complete with illustrations, hundreds of paintings, some 12 feet long, and an autobiography, all completely in secret. The documentary approaches its subject from three angles: through interviews of acquaintances, excerpts from his autobiography and from rough animations of his illustrations from his epic fantasy novel. While the first two approaches are very successful, the animation is overused and annoying, particularly combined with a PBS/Ken Burns-style of image-overlay. Fortunately, the underlying question throughout of why we create art is a powerful one and Darger’s accomplishment is immense. His ability to create fantastic worlds overcomes the film’s limitations in describing it, making the documentary worth seeing.