Sidewinder’s View: Beyond The Black Rainbow (2010)

From 2010, this morning’s movie…

…which took me two sittings to finish. Written and directed by Panos Cosmatos, who also made the recent Nicolas Cage movie Mandy, another endurance test masquerading as a feature film (though, as the days pass by, I’m finding there are certain moments throughout that film which I can’t get out of my head; I’ll probably buy the Blu-ray, if only for the surreal punch of its second half).

You might ask why I bothered to sit through another picture from the same director whose work had recently so confounded/frustrated me. Well, it’s currently available on Shudder, I had a few hours to kill before sunrise, and I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. I figured the movie, like Mandy, would have its share of bizarrely interesting/intense moments/scenes, but would probably be just as slow and as frustrating as the Nicolas Cage flick was.

beyond the black rainbow

I wasn’t mistaken there. After a couple sittings, I made it through the entire 109-minute movie (which felt like three hours). Not as suspenseful as Mandy, also not as satisfying, I decided. Beyond The Black Rainbow looks really good, but its story left a lot to be desired.

The setting of this one is mostly within a high-tech private medical facility called Arboria, where the head doctor promises patients happiness through revolutionary procedures, I believe involving LSD and genetic engineering. Like Mandy, this film takes place in 1983.


The two main characters are a young female patient who’s kept secluded in a nearly empty room, separated from staff by a large glass window. She doesn’t speak much, seems very shy. The other main character is her sinister doctor, “Barry”, who has some weird connection to the patient and stares at everyone as if he’s on the verge of a psychotic break.


The girl has some sort of telekinetic ability, but isn’t fully aware of it, or at least doesn’t know how to channel it properly. The doctor, it’s later revealed, is/was a patient of Arboria who was used by the original head doctor of Arboria to father the telekinetic girl with another patient (who didn’t survive the girl’s birth). Barry was affected by his treatment at Arboria and slightly mutated (no bodily hair, with weird splotchy green eyes he has to conceal with contacts).

I’m half-guessing about a lot of this exposition, because it’s not presented conventionally, with clear sentences, straightforward visuals and narrative efficiency. Maybe I’m getting some of it wrong. Half the time, we don’t know just what we’re looking at, how it fits in with the characters or their histories, and the actors, when delivering this exposition, deliver their lines in a halting manner.

Towards the end of the film, after helping the now elderly, feeble head doctor OD on some sort of narcotic he shoots up between the toes, Barry finally breaks from sanity and gowns up in a leather suit, arming himself with an equally strange-looking knife…

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The girl’s slow escape from Arboria is interesting and somewhat suspenseful, probably because it’s staged so slowly, but the final confrontation between Barry and his patient is brief and anti-climactic. The film’s intermittently suspenseful, but I didn’t feel any of it was all that scary. Often, things felt as if they were building up to that, but it never paid off in the way that a Horror movie would, just slightly bizarre and unsettling.

The movie looked pretty good for its low budget. The set design, the cinematography, the acting, were all quite good. The problem is that the story was thin (for a movie that runs almost two hours), the pacing was mostly turtle-like, and the characters and their motivations were frustratingly impenetrable. There was an extended ‘bad trip’ flashback scene, loaded with surreal imagery, that seemed to stretch on for ten minutes or more. Very self-indulgent, I thought.

The score is mostly this incessant, droning, synth-laden, atonal noise, and, frankly, combined with the (mostly) slow pace of the narrative and its editing, Beyond The Black Rainbow qualifies as a good candidate for a Bedtime Movie (*): pop it in, let it run for five minutes a stretch, then shut the TV off when the film’s numbing effect lulls you into drowsiness.

The score did, however, feature a few cues I found appealing:

Purely as an exercise in aesthetics, the film could be appreciated, but it was tough to get through for the reasons mentioned above. This is the kind of arthouse movie I can admire without really enjoying. Perhaps my opinion will improve over time.

Beyond The Black Rainbow‘s definitely a cult movie which has its fans, but, nowadays, doesn’t everything?

I’m of the opinion that film directors can be divided into two distinct categories: Storyteller and Painter. As evidenced through their work, the Painters seem to be more preoccupied with the visuals of their films, while the Storytellers, obviously, are more focused on communicating the narrative.

Most directors, for better or worse, fall into the former category, while there are only a few I can think of right offhand who belong in the latter category.

Having seen each of Cosmatos’s feature films, I think it’s safe to say he’s definitely a Painter. And that’s not necessarily a negative, depending on one’s expectations. Personally, I’m a bigger fan of storytelling.

(*) 2001: A Space Odyssey and Herzog’s Nosferatu, both films I can admire without actually finding entertaining, are two such Bedtime Movies in my Blu-ray collection that I put to use in this manner.