Gimme Something to Watch: Beyond The Black Rainbow
“I looked into the eye of the god. It looked right back through me. It looked through everything… it was so, so, so beautiful. Like a black rainbow.“
Released in 2009 and and billed as a “Reagan-era fever dream,” Beyond The Black Rainbow is a mind-bending hypercolor sci-fi psychotrope of a film that uses glacial pacing, minimal dialogue, gorgeous cinematography and stunning music to construct a captivating atmosphere of wonder and dread. It centers around the imprisonment of a young telepathic girl and her obsessive doctor/captor in the sterile and confining Arboria Institute in 1983. The institute, it seems, is not quite the transcendent utopia it was founded to achieve.
BTBR is the first directorial offering from Panos Cosmatos, son of kickass-movie-making director George P. Cosmatos (Tombstone, Cobra), and it wields a hypnotic eyeball-grabbing experience few other films can match. Visually, it’s equal parts 2001: A Space Odyssey, Drive and Phase IV. Symmetrical framing, slow movements, geometric patterns and colors fighting for screen dominance convey an other-worldliness that beautifully align with the film’s progressing story.
Sonically, BTBR is wholly immersive in both sound and score. Scenes in the institute hum and rumble with the ever-present white noise of corporate air conditioning and the low thrumming of electrical infrastructure beneath the floors. The soundtrack, by Jeremy Schmidt of Sinoia Caves and Black Mountain, is an analog masterpiece of retro keyboards and vintage synthesizer sounds that work hand-in-hand with the visuals to both evoke the era of the film and complement the cold indifference of glass-lined hallways or the unsettling nausea of flashbacks.
Here’s a perfect example. Just prior to the film’s halfway point, the film launches into a fantastic sequence set to a soaring moog-fueled space rock anthem (turn your speakers up for this one).
All of this begins to turn dark in the final act, once it’s revealed what the institute was founded on and the effects it caused. The 1966 scene is among the most dreamlike and nightmarish sequences you’re ever likely to see.
BTBR is a film that eschews hitting plot points on a specific time schedule, and it is not forthcoming with wordy exposition or dialogue. Like many works of David Lynch, atmosphere, mood, and a cloud of questions about where it’s headed are practically characters in themselves. It is in no hurry. It trusts in its viewer to wholly accept the world it presents and reach the necessary conclusions, but also leaves many elements undefined and unexplained. It’s a film whose look, sound and overall experience stick with you long after the credits conclude.
If you have the means to set aside 90 minutes in a dark room with plenty of volume, an open mind and a clear schedule, I strongly suggest you watch this film and find out for your… self.
Beyond The Black Rainbow is currently available on Netflix and DVD/Blu-Ray.
Soundtrack available via Jagjaguwar.
(images taken from DVD release)