In The Realms Of The Unreal
The Mystery Of Henry Darger
A documentary by Jessica Yu
A friend of mine passed me a burnt copy of a movie that I had never seen or heard of before. This DVD opened my mind to the idea of the immense amount of artist that live and create through out their life completely in a reclusive manner creating a world and existence only known to themselves. Without any care or whim to show or display there work, for whatever reason. For that reason this movie struck a particular chord with me that I rarely feel day to day, a harsh realization and understanding that there is so much to discover, create and learn about humanity and the people among us. The name of this movie is “The Realms Of The Unreal”.
The opening line from the movie is a narrated quote from the artist who is questioning himself. “Am I a real enemy of the cross or a very sorry saint?” This statement seems to encompass the mind state of this man throughout the time of his life.
Henry Darger was a mystery to those few people that he came into contact with. Throughout the beginning of the movie there are snippets of interviews from neighbors and acquittances of Henry’s that contradict very basic information about the individual. The individuals that “knew” Henry are incapable of agreeing how tall the man was where he sat in church or even the correct pronunciation of his name. He was a mystery to those who even considered themselves to know him.
Born April 12, 1892 Henry never knew his mother and at 8 years old his father was sick and sent to live in a Chicago poor house while Henry was sent to a boys mission nearly 150 miles away. After a few years and troubles in school he was then sent to the Lincoln Home for feeble minded children otherwise known as “The State Farm.
Henry tried multiple times to escape and finally did as a teenager. Henry proceeded to walk from Decaeter to Chicago. There he found work at a Catholic hospital as a janitor.
During this time he began collecting pictures from magazines and newspapers and pasted them into phone books. He developed his artwork through experiment with overlay, collage, copying and tracing. Anything that might produce the desired effect. In his writing he appropriated parts of his favorite books including Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Oz books and others.
He was drafted into WWI, although he never left the United States. He was discharged by exaggerating poor eyesight and went back to Chicago to resume his life as a janitor and his work as a writer and artist.
His neighbors recall him being very reclusive, keeping to himself in his small apartment and rarely sleeping. If he did have a conversation it was almost always about the weather and he never answered direct questions.
He continued his life in near self isolation until he was no longer able to care for himself. In 1972 he was admitted to St. Augustines. The same poorhouse that his father had past away in. Henry died, April 13, 1973, only one day after his 81st birthday.
The story of Henry Darger is not that incredible or inspiring from a casual glance of a fellow neighbor or acquittance from the neighborhood. The part of Darger’s life that is so inspiring and incredible is what they found in the small apartment of this very poor and very isolated gentleman. Within Henry’s apartment, the neighbors and landlord found thousands upon thousands pages of writing. Including a 15,000 page epic novel. There was a ten year period of daily weather reports spanning from 1953- 1963, sometimes dictated down to the hour, not to mention journals, notes and correspondence. His writings totaling over 30,000 pages.
Along with the writing Henry had a vast collection of illustrations and painting. Many of the over 300 paintings were over ten feet long and painted on both sides. The paintings were mostly illustrations for his epic novel “The Realms Of The Unreal.
The story of this man and his conviction to his work throughout a very poor and otherwise uneventful life hit me hard both as a struggling artist and human being. I sincerely hope that you seek out this documentary and give it the time and consideration that it is most definitely worth.