In the Realms of the Unreal
(2004, Dir. Jessica Yu) Unrated
By Chad T. Johnston
I am of the opinion that "weird" is a highly underrated commodity in this world, or at least in America. With this in mind, Jessica Yu’s In the Realms of the Unreal reminds us of the value of the weird, as it is a documentary that chronicles the life of a janitor named Henry Darger.
"Why would I want to see a film about a janitor?" You ask.
Let me ask you a better question: Why wouldn't you want to see a film about a janitor who – despite being thoroughly reclusive and developmentally-delayed during his life – secretly wrote a 15,000+ page fantasy novel and painted hundreds of accompanying paintings during his decidedly weird life?
Darger's works were discovered when he was on his deathbed, and now they are celebrated in the public sphere. I mean, when Sufjan Stevens immortalizes you in song (“The Vivian Girls Are Visited in the Night by Saint Dargarius” on The Avalanche LP), you know you've arrived. This man's life was clearly sad, but paradoxically joyful at the same time. He avoided human contact, apparently made several failed attempts to adopt children, attended mass several times a day, yet constantly wrestled with God, and only found fame upon his demise.
All the same, Henry Darger's life reminds me that those of us who are prone to wander in the weirdlerness of life do not need to arrive at any particular destination so much as we need to recognize the strange beauty of the worlds we occupy at the moment. The weirdlerness is a beautiful place. All we need to do is stop and smell the, uh, garbage.