Words by Matthew Schuchman
This is a movie that can easily be tagged as the result of a massive trip through an acid flashback of late 70s/early 80s sci-fi cinema, cuz when broken down, Beyond The Black Rainbow seems to be screaming one clear message to me; don’t do drugs.
Directed by Panos Cosmatos, Beyond The Black Rainbow features an aesthetically marvelous use of new world technology to create older style images, as the film tells the story of Elena, a young girl held captive in a compound, who is subjected to odd psychiatric sessions by Dr. Barry Nyle. Elena is part of an experiment that is meant to make her the perfect living being. She obtains mental powers that make her different from anyone else and these powers seemingly stem from the drug induced state her parents were in when she was born. A prisoner to Nyle and his experiments, it’s safe to say, Elena only dreams of freedom.
While the story outlined can be derived from seeing the film, its method of delivery is strange, unsettling and will turn off most viewers. There is no one guiding light in the film that ties everything together for a general viewing audience and will only seem like something more if you are willing to give the film enough time and thought.
Visually, the film is stunning. Taking place in 1983, the film evokes the true nature of the time while resembling the film “2001: A Space Oddyssey” (which is billed as a Kubrikian vision). In BTBR, we’re inside the black halls of Arboria laboratories, and each frame is lit with saturated red or orange slate. As feelings or locations change, other colors of the rainbow are introduced. Barry Nyle’s home is a hodgepodge of dark greens and browns that separate one environment from another on color alone. There is also a flash back sequence in pure black and white where only the subject’s hair and shadow lines are clearly visible, that is until Barry Nyle emerges from the “black hole” that covers his new body.
After much thought, Beyond The Black Rainbow plays like a reverse Wizard of Oz. Elena is forced against her will to live in a world of color, or the world of lucid textures one might see while altering their mind with drugs. Instead of thinking about “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Elena yearns for an escape to a normal world. Conversely, for Nyle the “Black Rainbow” while a void of color for him, still shows him a new world where everyone else is twisted. Admittedly, this idea only came to me after days of analysis of the disjointed visual color references and sparse mentions of Ronald Regan or Manuel Noriega, harkening back to the historical context of the 1980’s.
As a project of style and atmosphere in a sci-fi setting (that turns almost into a slasher film near the end) Beyond The Black Rainbow hit all the marks. The uneven and non-inclusive story structure will keep most potential viewers in the dark, but we loved it. Check it out, it’ll trip you out.