In the Realms of the Unreal Jessica Yu

Few films evade the material they pretend to examine as completely as Jessica Yu's In the Realms of the Unreal. While it poses as a documentary on famed "outsider artist" Henry Darger — who throughout his reclusive life laboured at an awesome pedophiliac epic in both text and image — it resolutely refuses to deal with the very issues that make his work so troubling and fascinating. Vaguely describing the unreal realms of his Vivian Girl heroines as "a place where anything could happen," Yu and her film make sure that nothing that happens could frighten the children: the psychosexual torment at the core of his work is completely sidestepped, while his neo-Dickensian childhood at the hands of malicious caretakers is so mildly handled that you can practically hear "It's a Hard-Knock Life" playing in the background. The film is so condescending to such a profoundly complex body of work that you start shaking your fist at the nursery-ready background music and the hopelessly inadequate animation of the pictures that tame the incoherent passion of the images. And though various landlords and acquaintances speculate on his motives, there's no sensible discussion of the work, which is written off as part of a "mystery" that Darger presumably left in trust to cocktail sophisticates everywhere. Yu is so deliberately vague as to what she wants to suggest that the results are worse than no movie at all, unless the idea of a Darger documentary narrated by twinkle-voiced Dakota Fanning strikes you as frighteningly apropos. Included are storyboard and photo galleries that are completely useless to anyone without a giant TV, a Jessica Yu filmography, and an interview with Yu that makes her seem like the most presumptuous woman in the world. (Mongrel Media)