In the Realms of the Unreal

Director: Jessica Yu

Institute History

  • 2004 Sundance Film Festival


Jessica Yu (The Living Museum, Breathing Lessons) returns to Sundance with an innovative masterpiece that literally gives wings to one man's singular vision of an imaginary world.

Henry Darger lived a reclusive life and died alone in a Catholic mission in 1973. For more than 60 years, he created a massive literary and graphic body of work, including The Realms of the Unreal, an epic, fifteen-thousand-page novel with hundreds of paintings that recounts the wars between nations on an enormous unnamed planet. Darger's keen sense of composition and vivid colors allowed him to create incredibly intense and beautiful illustrations which are often disturbingly violent.

Consciously excluding art experts and psychologists, Yu presents impressions of Darger's work only from the people who knew him, letting the audience make up their own minds about the man. The film cleverly parallels his real life with his fantasies, making the oddness of his fantasy world more accessible.

Yu's bravest choice was to incorporate animation into the film. Working with a team of seven animators, she painstakingly brings Darger's paintings to life using only their own elements. By doing so, she creates a beautiful homage to and exploration of an artist who produced an enthralling, complex, and unique opus entirely for himself.

(Archives note: see also Jessica Yu's Meet The Artist interview on our YouTube Channel.)

— Trevor Groth

Screening Details

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