Many people now know Panos Cosmatos’ name due to the highly successful film Mandy starring our one true god Nicolas Cage. I had anticipated nothing but a great film going into theaters because for years I had always professed my admiration and respect for his debut movie, 2010’s Beyond the Black Rainbow. It’s been a while since I’ve written a review, so my aim was to get back into it with the intention to showcase some of my favorite movies that in my opinion merit further recognition that I hope many will watch on account of how these films made an impression on me.
Being a fan of the 80s, Beyond the Black Rainbow already piqued my interest for taking place in 1983. But that’s a tiny factor compared to the many reasons I think this movie is fantastic and why I must write about it. Where do I begin?
I would have to say the plot is more convoluted than Mandy. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Mandy, I thought it was great and there are similarities in both movies, but what intrigued me more about Beyond the Black Rainbow was its take on abstract subjects like out of body experiences, other planes of existence, higher consciousness and the elevation of the mind, all with an anti-humanistic approach. It is very reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s work specifically Videodrome as it contains an existentialist tone about losing the ability to control your mind due to the shift between reality and TV and Scanners because they both display the turmoil that will ensue from attempting to discipline and diagnose a person with telepathic abilities.
Beyond the Black Rainbow mostly takes place in the Arboria Institute, a new age research facility that was founded by Dr. Mercurio Arboria in the 60s, which was later taken over by his protégé Dr. Barry Nyle. Dr. Arboria’s ambition was to allow humans to gain enlightenment and happiness with the use of technology and spiritualism, as he believed the mortal and material world we live in cannot achieve transcendence. If Panos ever made a prequel about Dr. Arboria in the 60s as a cult leader, I’d be thrilled to see what the results would be like. Cut to the 80s, Dr. Barry Nyle is now running tests on a young girl named Elena who has telekinetic abilities and is kept locked in a white room in the institute. Barry can supress her powers by using a dial that activates a glowing pyramid mechanism that acts as an invisible shield that can prevent Elena from using her psychic capabilities. I found that this contraption has the same allure and mystery as the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It becomes quite clear that Barry is obsessed with his subject; his ambivalent jealousy is crossed with his amazement of Elena. Michael Rogers who portrays Barry was the perfect actor chosen to depict this role. He brought genuine discomfort to the alienistic character. One thing that ties Barry and Red from Mandy together is that their voices are altered when in a position of power. As if in a catatonic state of enlightenment surrounded by vibrant colors of red, we see this again in the shots where the protagonists are driving looking to the passenger in the same manner. Another similarity is their fierce devotion to their weapons.
If you Google this movie, what will be obvious right off the bat are the visuals. The lighting, effects and style of Beyond the Black Rainbow are astounding and marvellous. Going for a 70s/80s science fiction look, Panos shot it on 35mm film to get that beautiful nostalgic grainy look. I admire the past for many reasons, we all carry memories that resonate sentimental feelings of joy from our childhoods. When I watch a VHS, it emphasizes that part of me that enjoyed those days of renting movies and folding out giant maps to write down directions for how to get there. There’s an honest difference when watching a movie that was shot on film vs. digitally. Tangible objects make me happy and so does this movie when I can see that vintage grainy texture. It’s the little things!
Not only does the chromatic lighting make it wonderful, the choice of colors to depict each character are to be commended, as sombre reddish colors are shown when Barry is on screen to display his more destructive side and cool bluish colors are used for Elena in her cell to exhibit her innocent disposition. The subtle use of lens flares and the illumination of fluorescent lighting are simply gorgeous much like the aesthetic appeal Mandy has, reminiscent of Dario Argento’s Suspiria.
The use of slow pace scenes is another thing that I really love in film; combined with haunting music it’s quite serene yet mysterious and captivating. Panos has reworked this effect in his films when associated with hallucinatory drug use. There is extensive research on their psychoactive effects to achieve a state of elevation to expand your mind to a higher level of consciousness as well as religious healing and medical aid to assist with mental illnesses. My research has led to the books ‘Psychology of the Future’ by Stanislav Grof, ‘The Doors of Perception’ by Aldous Huxley as well as the works of William S. Burroughs, so I’m ready to expand my mind even further. One of my favorite scenes is a flashback of when Barry first goes on his journey beyond this physical plane. It is here that I first embraced Panos’ imaginative prowess through sceneries of bold colors and celestial displays of flowing smoke and liquid comparable to landscapes of the cosmos. Barry is forever changed from this experience as he has seen the eyes of god to which he refers as seeing a black rainbow.
I must say the soundtrack is PHENOMINAL! Music and style are such drastic and significant tools when it comes to conveying a particular mood in a movie as it can leave such strong impressions. When I first heard the score written by Jeremy Schmidt from the Canadian band Black Mountain, I instantly had to own it. It’s like if Tangerine Dream, Giorgio Moroder and John Carpenter teamed up to put your brain into a space trance and the results are hypnotic. My iPod has been playing the soundtrack for Risky Business, the song ‘Chase’ from Midnight Express, and the main theme from Christine on a loop because of my recent research and can detect their influence on this soundtrack.
I appreciate movies that are not self-explanatory; it leaves it to the audience’s imagination and provokes our curiosity, which is the appeal of fantasy. Personally, it initiates my insatiable need to learn as much as I can to figure it out before I assume my own conclusions. This is why I love David Lynch but I’ll save him for another review. One of the most interesting scenes is where Barry gets a phone call, and the unknown being’s voice coming from a disconnected phone is, let’s just say, inhuman. No later mention or explanation can be frustrating to some viewers, but to me, I find it enigmatic and is what makes this movie abnormal in the best way possible. People tend to have interest in the unknown and uncharted regions; exploration and research leads to discovery, which only gains more knowledge on what was previously a void in our minds. Dr. Mercurio Arboria’s intention was to create a reality out of dreams, “a different way to think, a new way to live, a perfect way to believe.” Beyond the Black Rainbow is an experience, a movie that renders emotions that will forever either haunt or enchant you, a complex movie that can be discussed in massive lengths. If you require a movie that will open your mind to new avenues of avant-garde and abstract themes that will diverge from your normal movie viewing, I highly recommend this.