In the Realms of the Unreal

In 1973, a reclusive janitor named Henry Darger died at 81, and his astonished neighbors discovered what he’d left behind: a long autobiography, more than 300 paintings, and a 15,000-page novel about seven little girls and their epic Tolkienesque war against the forces of evil. Filmmaker Jessica Yu faced huge obstacles in documenting his life—so nondescript was Darger that there are only three photographs of him, and people who knew him couldn’t even agree on how to pronounce his name. She fills in the blanks with animated versions of Darger’s paintings and readings from his two unpublished books (narrated by the ubiquitous Dakota Fanning, with Larry Pine doing the voice of Darger himself). Yu seems to get amazingly under the skin of this odd little man, proof of the old adage about still waters running deep.