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Achieving something far weirder and more resonant than the genre pastiche it initially seems to reach for, Beyond the Black Rainbow satisfies on practically every level—provided you allow its narcotic pace, lysergic visuals, and throbbing soundtrack to tickle your cortex into a contained frenzy instead of lulling you to sleep.
Auteurized to within an inch of its life by first-timer Panos Cosmatos, Black Rainbow constructs a deliberately opaque narrative with a slyly obscured timeline; an opening title card swears it's 1983, but the helmet hair, turtleneck, and sport jacket combos, among other tip-offs, read a decade earlier. (A duo-chromatic flashback to 1966 adds yet another temporal wrinkle.) The skeletal story concerns Elena (Eva Allan), a young woman with telekinetic powers who's doped and held against her will in an antiseptic bunker-utopia called "Arboria," named for its squirrelly founder, a kind of Timothy Leary/Howard Hughes mash-up. Smug, elusive staffer Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) conducts painful experiments on the girl in the guise of therapy before they embark on convergent paths to liberation.
These details don't matter much because Beyond the Black Rainbow is a seamless, slavish synthesis of influences above all else. Most are easy to peg for the junk-movie nut—everything from Logan's Run, Phase IV, and The Terminator to Jodorowsky, John Carpenter's synth scores, and Ridley Scott's skim-milk sci-fi opuses. The milieu in general suggests a sanitized-to-death Kubrickian future (past) in which curdled New Age ideology reigns, and there are even echoes of Alphaville and, in the ambiguous closing shot, Dogtooth, too. This gives an idea of the high-low ambitions Cosmatos brings to the film, but for all his indebtedness to bygone, beloved, and beloathed celluloid artifacts, he gives Black Rainbow a stirring presence of its own. Rogers is extraordinary, too—in early scenes, he oozes malevolent, half-comical contempt, while later he makes Barry's tragedy (revealed in the flashback) sympathetic and real. Where has this guy been hiding?
Alas, Black Rainbow can't sustain its literally mesmerizing tone in the final act, and Barry and Elena's showdown feels truncated and anticlimactic (possibly by design, but it still falls flat). At heart, the film is no more (or less) than a brilliantly executed lark, but it's not often that we're reminded with such potency that movies are most delightful as sensory experiences.
I wish you would have mentioned the video game Half Life 2. The whole time I watched the movie all I could think was "this movie stinks of Half Life 2 inspiration" (which is a good thing). Then I did some digging around on google to see if anybody else noticed this. To my surprise, I found multiple interviews where Cosmatos described the game as a major influence, having listened to its sound track a lot while he wrote the film.
If you read a review and still have no idea what a movie is about, you know you're in existentialist psychobabble country. For a short time, this image sensory experiment may work. But as a 1 hour and 50 minute feature film, it's an experience left for those with time on their hands to get stoned. An achievement? This was a minimalist art experiment. The difference between this and the other more psychedelic movies cited are that the latter actually have a story line. In this movie, one can best say that a girl with an unknown problem and a doctor in an unsatisfying relationship each "escape" their own boundaries, one through horror. None of it is explained and there really isn't much to care about except what else you could be doing with your time.
Generally agree with the review. In this day and age I think the film is a major achievement.
But I think you are missing one of the major influences and explanation for the "narcotic pace" - Andrei Tarkovsky.
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