Tribeca Film Festival 2011
By Don Simpson | May 2, 2011
Director: Panos Cosmatos
Writer: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands
Via a promotional video — not all that dissimilar from the Dharma Initiative training films from the television series Lost — Dr. Mercurio Arboria (Scott Hylands) monotonously incants some new agey propaganda about promoting the further evolution of the human race. By providing the capacity for human beings to achieve pure happiness, Dr. Arboria purports that he will singlehandedly usher in the dawning of a new age of enlightenment. The pure happiness Dr. Arboria intends to make accessible to humans will be created from a recipe of “benign pharmacology, sensory therapy and energy sculpting.”
We are then transported to the futuristic present — the year 1983 — where we find the film’s mute protagonist Elena (Eva Allan) as a heavily sedated teenage prisoner in a prison-like compound known as Arboria. A creepy guy with a hair-helmet and reptilian aura, Barry (Michael Rogers), is apparently Elena’s doctor and captor; and it appears as though a lone nurse, Margo (Rondel Reynoldson), might be the only other person roaming the maniacally monochromatic hallways of Arboria. Somewhere nearby, Rosemary (Marilyn Norry) waits for Barry to come home to dinner; they are having brown rice and steamed asparagus tonight (“Wow, that sounds really good”).
Barry attempts to solicit verbal and/or emotional responses from Elena to no avail (with an exception of a teardrop or two). Elena seems unable to do anything on her own accord; that is until she is motivated by a photograph of her deceased mother. Elena’s physical and mental abilities rapidly increase around the same time that Margo discovers a mysterious medical book. Margo becomes skeptical of Barry’s intentions with Elena; but it is unclear who or what actually helps Elena overcome her drug-induced slumber. Knowledge is said to build confidence and power, thus Elena wants to see her father, knowing full well that he holds the answers to all of her questions.
Elena goes positively Scanners and Barry concurrently opts to shed his “appliances” as Beyond the Black Rainbow slides down a surrealist rabbit hole into a hyper-reality of mind-blowing proportions. First time writer-director Panos Cosmatos (son of Rambo: First Blood Part II director George P. Cosmatos) crafts the sublimest spectacle this side of where the pyramid meets the eye — the eye of providence, that is — taking us on a fully-immersive LSD freak-out as cinematographer Norm Li’s head trip in every scene visually assaults us with one gorgeously framed shot after another. Everything from the lens flares and colored gels to the hypnotic layer cake of images creates a hyper-stylized majesty that oozes with oh so sweet eye candy. The visuals work in perfect tandem with the lucid stream-of-consciousness of the narrative and the pulsing-pulsing electronic soundscape by Jeremy Schmidt (of Black Mountain) creating a masterfully oblique film.
It is overtly obvious just how fanatically Cosmatos loves fantastical cinema — specifically science fiction, fantasy and horror. Cosmatos flashes his geekdom with vague and fleeting allusions to Luis Buñuel, Kenneth Anger, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, John Carpenter, Dario Argento, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Ken Russell, Nicholas Roeg, and Andrei Tarkovsky, just to name a few; yet he never goes as far as referencing any specific scenes from cinema’s past. Beyond the Black Rainbow is for all intents and purposes a stylistic mash-up as if Cosmatos thought about everything he ever loved about cinema and placed it in a blender. The resulting aesthetic — which exists somewhere in the acid-drenched ether between the worlds of psychedelic and avant garde — is going to be a tough pill for the masses to swallow, which leads me to believe that Cosmatos never intended for this film to be consumed by the mainstream.
What is Beyond the Black Rainbow about? I have no frackin’ idea. One brief scene that really stands out to me is when we glimpse Ronald Reagan on the television attempting to rally his populace against the ever-increasing Soviet threat. The sound bite really drives home the rampant Cold War propaganda of paranoia of the early 1980s — the fear of the other, the fear of the unknown, the fear of the annihilation of the human race — it also clarifies why Cosmatos set Beyond the Black Rainbow in 1983.
(Also check out my interview with writer-director Panos Cosmatos.)