'Beyond the Black Rainbow' Revisited


The Sentionaut awakens... Magnet Films

Sometimes a work of art grows like a seed in the mind, maturing over time and wriggling its roots through your consciousness. Only then does it truly resonate. For me, Panos Cosmatos' "Beyond the Black Rainbow" fits that bill -- a film that certainly impressed me with its stylistic flair, yet initially felt lacking.

That was three years ago, and while I've certainly watched and forgotten a number of films since then, the audio/visual wonder of "Beyond the Black Rainbow" stuck with me -- along with the psychedelic mysteries that course through its narrative. So given the Halloween season, I thought I'd give the film a well-deserved second viewing.

Here's what thought...

"Like a black rainbow."
Magnet Films

This time around, I found the film's visual style is as hypnotic as ever -- perhaps more so since I knew to expect such a brooding pace. As the scenes stretched out, the film's vibrant color palate really burned into my mind, and I found myself dwelling on even the sub-dermal details of Michael Rogers's stunning performance as the deranged researcher Dr. Barry Nyle. Sinoia Cave's transcendent score complements all of this perfectly, and seems to have secured a rightful place in the hearts of electronic film score aficionados.

But I knew to expect much of this going in. I was less sure how enthralled I'd be with the seemingly-intentional ambiguous narrative of film. Once again, however, I found a patient, inquisitive viewing quite rewarding -- something I definitely want to underline for first-time viewers of "Beyond the Black Rainbow." This is no mere style-over-substance nostalgia fest, but rather a deliberate and sober piece of intentionally mind-rending cinema. It's psychedelic, certainly, but a psychedelic substance must be consumed and digested.

I see it as a film about the crashing wave of 1960s optimism, youth, new-age thought and futuristic zeal. As we explore the immaculate halls of the Arboria Institute, we learn how a quest for personal growth and post-human utopia has led its disciples to illness, madness and horror.

It seems that only two individuals have endured the psychedelic journey to the other side and returned more-or-less intact: Dr. Nyle, who maintains a careful mask of sanity in the wake of cosmic horror, and the imprisoned Elena (Eva Bourne), whose youthful energy preserves an optimism and empathy that even the psychic ruins of Arboria can't crush.Both empowered by psychic abilities from their otherworldly experiences, one peruses the other through a murderous, quasi-futuristic maze and out into space between Arboria's failures and the promise of the real world.

"Beyond the Black Rainbow" is not a film for everyone. There's no adjusting the dosage level. But for viewers open to a chromatic phantasmagorical jaunt, you'll find few substitutes for its potency. I'll have to disagree with 2012 me, because my 2015 incarnation ranks it among his favorite films.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.