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btbr

I first heard about Beyond the Black Rainbow whilst comment surfing on youtube (an activity which doesn’t usually yield anything beyond a desperate urge to euthanise the entire human race).

I’m not sure how to describe Beyond the Black Rainbow. It’s a science-fiction, horror, thriller movie. Although even calling it a ‘movie’ doesn’t seem quite accurate. It’s more of an experience. An art house horror experience. With a Buck Rogers aesthetic.

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Elena and a window licker

Elena (Eva Bourne) is imprisoned beneath the Arboria Institute, a 70s hippy commune, come torture lab. The story (such as it is) follows her experiences within the institute and her journey to escape from its confines. Elena has powerful psychic abilities (think Scanners) which are suppressed by a glowing white pyramid.

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Dr. Nyle. Charismatic. Apparently.

Elena’s captor is Dr Nyle (Michael Rogers), protege of the Institute’s founder, and Elena’s dad: Dr  Mercurio Arborial. Nyle’s obsession with Elena clearly extends beyond scientific interest. We discover in the course of the movie that Dr Nyle went through a terrifying out of body experience, intended to elevate him to a higher state of existence. This takes the form of an incredible sequence (very Kubrickesque) where Nyle is submerged in a strange black liquid and then essentially dissolves into burning viscous fluids and swirling clouds of amorphous oil. These hellish and disturbing visions are beautiful in their brutal otherworldly nature.

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Hellish visions from within the black goo

Rather than transcending, Dr Nyle becomes a psychopathic killer. Upon emerging from the black oil he murders Anna, Arborial’s wife and Elena’s mother. Weirdly, Arborial seems unperturbed by these events and continues to submerge his infant daughter in the black goo. I think – although I could be wrong – that the black goo and the aims of the Arborial institute may be a commentary upon the use of mind altering drugs and the 70’s bastardisation of ancient forms of mysticism into shallow, self-serving belief systems. And if this is the case then right on man! But it’s a barely decipherable message.

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Nyle crawls out of the black goo

Nyle is disfigured by his experiences in the black goo, he hides his baldness with a wig and his mutated eyes behind contact lenses. This probably has some deeper meaning, but I really cant figure it out. His relationship with his wife hints at a deeper meaning. She is an old hippy, who spends her days in a haze of weed, unable to connect with her husband in any way. He tries to explain his pain and suffering to her. Fails. And murders her.

There is, in all honesty, a lot I don’t understand about Beyond the Black Rainbow and  the film doesn’t try to explain any of it to you. It leaves you to fill in some very large gaps on you own. The aims of the Arborial Institute are very vaguely defined and the motivations of Dr. Nyle and Arborial himself are virtually indecipherable. Nyle was particularly frustrating as due to Michael Rogers’ incessant mumbling I could only understand about half of his dialogue. Elena is virtually a mute who cries and faints a lot, although we are supposed to sympathise with her, we never understand her and are well aware that she is a dangerous weapon.

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Beyond the Black Rainbow is an art film. And while I enjoyed the 70’s aesthetic, creepy atmosphere and disturbing visuals – I couldn’t penetrate much deeper into the narrative. This whole movie is like the acid trip from the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey – only this time, it’s a bad acid trip. The film-makers are definitely trying to say something possibly about the baby boomer generation, maybe even consumerism and the media, probably about shallow western appropriation of ‘spiritualism.’ But I couldn’t give you any solid details.

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A Sentionaut revealed

The Sentionauts are particularly confusing creatures. They appear to be guards of the Arborial institute and are used to keep Elena under control. Their name implies that they are sailors of perception or feelings (naut: Greek root for sailor; senti: Latin root for thought or feeling; making them a filthy chimera). Their spaced out, even dead expression when finally displayed implies that they are not experiencing anything on our plane of existence and their suits seem to be further protection again Elena’s psychic powers.

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The glowing pyramid of doom

I don’t know whether to recommend Beyond the Black Rainbow or not. For the visuals and the atmosphere alone it is well worth a look. However, if you are seeking any deeper meaning to this film you may be disappointed. If there are deeper themes, they are hard to decipher and, I fear, are ultimately as shallow as the 70’s culture this movie aims to deride. It’s a trip, but a very brief one that leads nowhere.

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