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IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL

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Jessica Yu's documentary explores the life and secret project of Henry Darger, a Chicago janitor and recluse. Upon his death in 1973, his life's work -- 300 paintings and a lavishly illustrated 15,000-page novel -- were discovered. The novel detailed a war between Christian soldiers, heathens and seven young girls, the "Vivian Girls," with diversions into the fantastic and the bucolic. Yu employs narrators who alternate between reading the novel, Berger's diary passages and outlining what little is known of his life, finding remarkable similarities. Her film is less a fact-obsessed detective story than a reflective essay on the role that art, religion and fantasy played in one lonely man's life. She makes no attempt to explain Barger or his obsession, though some hints are broad: his Dickensian childhood and his isolation, which appears to have suspended Barger in a state of naiveté. He drew his little girls with penises, but neighbors speculate that perhaps he just didn't know otherwise. Or maybe he was mad. As Barger's former landlady posits: Sometimes there's just questions, and no answers. Regent Square (AH)

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