Considering the dream-like, ambiguous nature of Beyond the Black Rainbow, the debut feature by writer/director Panos Cosmatos, its first five minutes set forth a surprisingly explicit outline. Through a monologue by Dr. Mercurio Arboria(Scott Hylands), the thesis of unleashing the power of the mind to find true happiness, through mild drug use of course, is introduced. With that opening lecture and the following content and visual style, Beyond the Black Rainbow can’t help but remind the viewer of the LSD mythos. Over the years, LSD has been championed and toyed with by everyone from Aldous Huxley to the US Government. Its ability to manipulate the chemistry of the brain and, arguably, unleashing abilities within it, makes LSD the most interesting member of the hallucinogenic family. While LSD itself is never referenced directly in Beyond the Black Rainbow, through the kaleidoscope of colors and abstract visual style it is clear that Panos Cosmatos is channeling the LSD counterculture and the cultural paradigm that it is associated with.
Taking the LSD framework that Beyond the Black Rainbow employs in mind, trying to explain the synopsis of Beyond the Black Rainbow is a bit counterproductive. Counterproductive because, as you would expect, the majority of the movie isn’t really bound to any traditional story progression. In its basest form, the film is about a man(Michael Rogers) who is working on the farthest fringe of any accepted form of psychology to treat Elena(Eva Allan), a young, seemingly mute girl. That synopsis, though, is really only applicable to a small number of scenes. The rest is a string of imagery that furthers the theme of that opening monologue. Imagine a nightmare where you are forced to not only face, but battle every aspect of your own personality, especially the self defeating and borderline evil aspects. That nightmare is what Beyond the Black Rainbow concerns itself with. It doesn’t seem to be interested in a straight narrative as much as exploring the ethos of the human mind.
When conscious, the mind spends its time processing and analyzing stimuli in an effort to make the outside world make sense within our own perspective. When unconscious, the mind is more sporadic, leaping from concept to concept, image to image, free forming a world that somehow makes sense in sleep but is immediately ludicrous when we wake. Cosmatos decided to base the narrative of Beyond the Black Rainbow on that subconscious we all know and barely understand, which will either enthrall, confuse, or anger audiences. It depends completely on how the viewer’s conscious mind decides to accept and process those portrayals of the unconscious logic. Some people will hate it while the next person will adore it for the exact reasons.
On a purely logistical level, it really can’t be argued that Beyond the Black Rainbow is amazingly crafted. From the cinematic style of the distant future through the eyes of 1960, to the throbbing score of Jeremy Schmidt, the film is an impressive display of artistry. Even those who hate the approach of non-linear ambiguity must admit that it is successful, on a scene by scene basis at least, at a basic visceral level. Appealing to that same visceral sense, the performances by Eva Allan and Michael Rogers, our protagonist and antagonist are surprisingly raw and humanizing. Considering the fractured narrative it is quite a feat for two actors to allow as much pathos and sympathy that is on display here.
As you can probably tell, I have my own thesis on what the film was about and the themes it is attempting to broach. I won’t share it here, though, because the power of this film is in its ambiguity and the perspective it allows the audience to bring for themselves. Also, any thesis towards Beyond the Black Rainbow can be disproven without much effort. There is no universal truth or fact to this movie, it is ever shifting and changing in the same way it shifts within our own minds. We all have terrifying things, as well as beautiful and noble things, in our minds and they shift and battle every day.
As a filmgoer I can’t assure you that you will love Beyond the Black Rainbow. I can’t even promise you will like it. It really hinges on whether you react to the imagery presented. If you are hoping for a narrative story that you can tie up neatly with a bow, this is not your movie. If, like me, you are hooked on that aforementioned visceral level, Beyond the Black Rainbow is not only one of the more impressive horror movies of the last few years, but one of the best cinematic experiences in recent memory