Film Review: Beyond The Black Rainbow (2010)

Film:  Beyond The Black Rainbow
Director:  Panos Cosmatos
Starring:  Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Norry, Rondel Reynoldson
Release Date:  12/31/10 (theatres) / 09/11/12 (DVD)
Studio:  Magnolia Home Entertainment / Magnet Releasing
Tagline:  Beyond science. Beyond sanity. Beyond control.
Plot:  “Despite being under heavy sedation, Elena tries to make her way out of Arboria, a secluded, quasi-futuristic commune.” (Source: IMDB)

Review Score:  4.5 / 5

The science fiction genre has not seen a film of this magnitude, sparse in dialogue but bursting with images, since the likes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, Saul Bass’ Phase IV, and George Lucas’ THX 1138.  What can words truly provide that images don’t lack?  However, unlike the two aforementioned films, Beyond The Black Rainbow‘s release decades later finds arthouse scifi as a rare commodity.  The counterculture audience of the 1960’s to early 70’s has been replaced with post-Y2K millenials desensitized by action sequences and structured plots.  There is no John Lennon or George Harrison to support Panos Cosmatos like they did Alejandro Jodorowsky when he released El Topo.  Instead, the film’s reliance is on a heavily critical blogosphere.  Many praise the beautiful cinematography by Norm Li and Sinoia Caves’ ethereal synth soundtrack, but are quick to perceive the plot and storyline as incoherent or non-existent.  Has society altogether forgotten the cinematic experience?  Cosmatos’ debut feature takes us back to remind us.

Elena (Eva Allan) is a patient at Aboria Institute, a futuristic pharmaceutical therapeutic research organization.  Her primary caretaker, Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), checks in to evaluate her periodically.  Both of them appear to possess extra-sensory psychic abilities, which consumes their lives.  Elena wants to escape the institute and seek out her parents.  Dr. Nyle, taking some type of mood-altering drug and becoming unstable, further obsesses over Elena like a brother over a sister or father over a daughter.  These opposing desires between Elena and Dr. Nyle drive the film to it’s conclusion.  But this story is just grounded parts of the film’s mystique – interpretation of the whole is entirely dependent on the viewer.

Visually, Cosmatos and Li utilize a nostalgic color pallette to give a look and feel of 70’s era filmmaking.  The contrasting soft-hard grainy whites, blacks, oranges, and reds inside the institute make one hard pressed to believe BTBR was released only a few years ago.  Coupled to the film’s hypnotic imagery is Sinoia Caves’ epic 80’s synth score that yield Cliff Martinez’s Drive soundtrack comparisons.  One song in particular, also used in the film’s trailer, is haunting in it’s eighties catherdral-like expansion.  The praise does not end there.  Despite a lack of dialogue, acting in this film is still top notch.  Michael Rogers and Eva Allan are perfectly up to the task of playing the uneven doctor and patient, performances that should attract award buzz.  Marilyn Norry and Rondel Reynoldson provide ample support as well. 

So what does all that is Beyond The Black Rainbow add up to?  There are a few scenes, including one with an unkempt Dr. Aboria himself, which seems to provide clues to the meaning behind it all.  On the surface, Aboria Institute is a failure, never achieving the blissful happiness it purports to achieve.  This speaks to the banality of life.  No matter how much drugs, therapy, and isolation you exert in order to stabilize positive feelings in the world, it stands an impossible feat.  Human nature has imbedded negative qualities such as sadness, aggression, struggle, fear, obsession, and violence to secure the balance.  As the film shows, those positive feelings can only be manufactured temporairly, while the negative simply waits it’s turn below the surface. 

Film Poster: (c) 2012 chicagocinemasociety.org
Film Pictures: (c) 2012 boston.com / chud.com / media.theiapolis.com
Official Website:  http://www.arboria.org/

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