Beyond the Black Rainbow
|Beyond the Black Rainbow|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Panos Cosmatos|
|Produced by||Oliver Linsley
|Screenplay by||Panos Cosmatos|
|Music by||Sinoia Caves|
|Edited by||Nicholas T. Shepard|
|Distributed by||Magnet Releasing|
|Running time||110 minutes|
Beyond the Black Rainbow is a 2010 Canadian science fiction film written and directed by Panos Cosmatos, his feature film debut. The film stars Michael Rogers as "Dr. Barry Nyle". It was produced and filmed in Vancouver, and premiered at the 2010 Whistler Film Festival. It also showed at several film festivals throughout 2011, including Tribeca in New York City and Fantasia in Montreal. Magnet Releasing, the genre division of Magnolia Pictures, has picked up the film for US theatrical release.
- 1 Plot
- 1.1 1983 at the Arboria Institute
- 1.2 Elena is warmed up.
- 1.3 Therapy Session #1
- 1.4 Nyle returns home.
- 1.5 Elena watches Television.
- 1.6 Therapy Session #2
- 1.7 Elena searches for her father.
- 1.8 Therapy Session #3
- 1.9 The hidden case notes
- 1.10 Nyle receives a strange phone call
- 1.11 Nyle lets Elena kill Margo
- 1.12 The Sentionaut goes to work
- 1.13 Nyle visits Arboria
- 1.14 Flashback to 1966
- 1.15 The end of Arboria
- 1.16 Nyle's psychosis is revealed
- 1.17 Elena escapes from the institute
- 1.18 Nyle goes in search of Elena
- 1.19 Conclusion
- 2 Characters
- 3 Development
- 4 Style
- 5 Themes
- 6 Reception
- 7 References
- 8 External links
1983 at the Arboria Institute
An unidentified person places a videotape into a VCR and begins playing it. The video is an advertisement for a New Age therapeutic organisation called "The Arboria Institute" and features a series of monologues from the institute's founder, Dr Mercurio Arboria, along with short, meaningful phrases on a background filled with images of nature. Arboria states that mankind is lacking meaning and happiness, and he, along with his protégé, Barry Nyle, and a variety of other new age practitioners, have the ability to help people find inner peace and contentment. Arboria ends by inviting the viewers to come to the institute and "find out for your... self". The video ends with an image of Arboria holding a glowing prism. The credits show the heading "Arboria. Serenity through Technology", with a copyright stamp indicating that it was made in 1966. (We later learn that the unidentified person who started the video was an older Mercurio Arboria, watching it in his office.)
Elena is warmed up.
A close-up of an eye pans back to reveal the still image of a teenage girl - Elena. Her psychic ability is strong, but a glowing prism that uses psychic energy keeps her (and, presumably, others) from being able to free themselves. By 1983, it appears as though the Arboria Institute has become an underground prison. A tall, confident and menacing man walks down a corridor flooded in red light. This is Dr. Barry Nyle, Arboria's protégé. He comes to the end of the corridor and says to someone (probably Margo) to "warm her (Elena) up".
Therapy Session #1
Elena is taken from her room and given Light Therapy in preparation for her session. She is then led into the interview room by her Nurse, Margo, and sits alone in her chair. The interview room is separated by opaque glass, allowing Nyle to speak to her and ask her questions via a microphone and speakers. Despite his questions, Elena remains unresponsive. Nyle then begins rhythmically hitting a pen against his pad while simultaneously using his own psychic ability to "prod her". Elena tenses up in fear and pain, and Nyle states that these sessions are always the "highlight" of his day.
Nyle returns home.
After the session, Margo leads Elena back to her room. Along the way, Elena uses her psychic power to give Margo a nosebleed, which she immediately attributes to Elena. Nyle heads back home in his sports coupe, driving through a wilderness. Nyle arrives home to find his wife, Rosemary, meditating, though Nyle thinks she has been sleeping. After a polite but strained conversation, Nyle then goes to bed by way of the bathroom, where he swallows a series of pills that give him a calming effect.
Elena watches Television.
Back at the institute, "Night mode" is switched on and the lights are dulled. Elena, not asleep, gets up and approaches an Arboria monitor embedded in her cell wall. Using telekinesis, she changes the channel and is able to watch some TV shows, settling on a cartoon. Elena gives a hint of a smile as she watches.
Therapy Session #2
From Nyle's monologue, we learn that Elena's mother is dead and that she never had the chance to meet her. Nyle describes Elena's mother as "beautiful" and "desirable" but says these things to Elena with a look of restrained horror. Nyle then indicates to Elena that he has left a photo of her mother in her cell. With a mixture of grief and horror still outlining his face, Nyle says that Elena is looking "more and more like (her) mother every day." That evening, Elena gets up and discovers her mother's photo under her bed. Unbeknown to her, Nyle is watching her on a CCTV screen.
Elena searches for her father.
Later on the same night, Elena, still holding the picture of her mother, uses her psychic abilities to search for her father. As she searches, she comes across a room in the Institute inhabited by a sleeping man. (We later learn that this is the same room where Mercurio Arboria lives). Her psychic search is cut off suddenly by the prism, and Elena retreats back into her bed in fear.
Therapy Session #3
A supremely confident Nyle talks to Elena about self-knowledge, implying that Elena is confused about it while he knows exactly who he is - and that gives him his power. Nyle then tells Elena that he knows who she is, and then offers to her his ability to guide her to this self-knowledge, strength and power. Using sexual double entendres, Nyle says to her that she needs "another (person) to complete (this process)", that he can help her, and that all she needs to do is "let (him) in". Clearly disturbed by the implications of Nyle's offer, Elena then uses all of her psychic powers to attack Nyle. As this attack happens, Elena uses telepathy and says to Nyle "I want to see my Father, please" (which are the only lines she says in the film). Nyle is barely able to withstand her psychic attack but eventually overcomes it. Nyle then says to Elena that she is not allowed out into the world, as she is very sick and the world is a dangerous place. With some blood on his nostril, Nyle says that she will see her father again one day.
That evening, Elena's nurse Margo is about to leave for the day when some strange sounds from a nearby room interest her. There, some malfunctioning electronics reveal a secret drawer which contains a folder of Dr Nyle's case notes on Elena. Margo begins flipping through it, but after a few pages of statistical information, she comes across some strange drawings - some with violent sexual imagery and photos of Elena. Disgusted and frightened, Margo puts the notes back into the drawer and quickly leaves for home.
Nyle receives a strange phone call
Soon after, Dr. Nyle receives a strange phone call at home from an unintelligible robotic voice. Nyle understands what the voice is saying and looks increasingly worried, but gives assurances to the voice that "procedures are in place". He then rushes back to the institute and discovers, by way of discarded cigarette ash, that Margo has seen the confidential notes. In a state of panic, Dr. Nyle takes what appears to be a hallucinogenic drug to calm himself.
Nyle lets Elena kill Margo
The following day, a suspicious Nyle informs Margo that Elena has smuggled something into her room (a picture of her Mother that Nyle had given her a few days previously). Margo goes into Elena's cell and forcibly takes the picture from her. Watching this scene intently on a security camera, Nyle then temporarily turns off the prism which keeps Elena's psychic abilities suppressed. Free from the prism's control, Elena kills Margo by using telekensis to crush her skull.
The Sentionaut goes to work
Nyle watches Margo's death with amusement, and allows Elena to exit her cell for a short way before re-activating the prism, immobilizing her. Nyle then releases a "Sentionaut", a very tall, thin and androgynous being wearing what appears to be a red space suit and a faceless helmet. The Sentionaut injects Elena with a tracking device and brings her back to her cell.
Nyle visits Arboria
Nyle then enters a lift and travels to the bottom floor of the underground institute. There he goes to see Dr. Arboria. Displaying signs of senility and dissociation, Arboria remains either ignorant or indifferent to Nyle's psychosis, regarding him as his best protégé. Arboria is also addicted to narcotics, and asks Nyle to help him administer it.
Flashback to 1966
As this happens, there is a flashback to the year 1966, where a young Nyle stands before Dr. Arboria and his wife, Anna. Here we learn that Nyle is about to embark on a "great journey" where he will somehow achieve transcendence. After being given hallucinogens, Nyle stands naked and sexually aroused before a vat of thick black liquid. As he is lowered into it, Arboria tells him to "Bring home the mother lode". Nyle then undergoes a series of otherworldly visions punctuated by broken skulls and coloured clouds and smoke. Nyle then emerges from the black liquid in a violent psychotic state. Spying Arboria's wife, he approaches her and kills her. Arboria then comes in to find his wife dead and Nyle, covered in the black liquid, standing over her. The flashback continues to a later date as we then see a baby Elena being held by Arboria - her father - also being lowered into the black liquid while a bandaged Nyle looks on. As Arboria lowers her into the liquid, he pronounces that a new age of the human spirit has begun.
The end of Arboria
The flashback ends and Nyle turns to Dr Arboria with a syringe containing the narcotic. He deliberately gives Arboria an overdose and walks out while Arboria spends his last few minutes of life enjoying the drug's effects and watching an old tourist video of Hawaii. As he lies dying, Elena is able to make a psychic connection to him, and communicates her love for him before he dies.
Nyle's psychosis is revealed
After Arboria's death, Nyle returns home and removes his wig and contacts and then dresses himself in black leather pants and jacket, becoming sexually aroused by them in the process. He then examines a strange knife that he calls "the Devil's Teardrop". After being called by his wife, Nyle explains to her in emotional terms the effects of his psychic research and experiences. He describes to her what it was like to have the eye of god look through him says that the experience was like seeing a "Black Rainbow". Suddenly Nyle looks at her and states that she is "less than nothing, just spit in the wind" and quickly kills her.
Elena escapes from the institute
Elena then begins to experiment with her psychic powers and uses them to nullify the effects of the prism by matching wavelengths. Freed from the prism's psychic chains, she begins her escape from the underground prison. She makes it to a lift and heads towards the surface. But the lift opens up to a control room manned by a Sentionaut who goes after her. Trapped in a locked room, Elena crawls through an air duct to escape. She makes her way to a vertical shaft that directs air into all levels of the underground facility. Elena manages to edge around the shaft and enter another air duct. She then emerges into a small, quiet room where a person entirely wrapped in cloth appears to be sleeping. This person is awakened and screams as Elena tries to pass it. Shocked by the being - which appears to be a mutated human in a strait jacket - Elena almost loses her protection against the prism. Fortunately she is able to exit the room unharmed.
Elena then gets into another lift and heads for the surface. But when the door opens, a Sentionaut stands ready for her. Frightened, Elena uses her psychic powers on the Sentionaut to freeze it in place. She also commands the Sentionaut to remove its faceplate, revealing an expressionless and deathly white human face. Elena moves past the Sentionaut and makes her way into a lunchroom where a Mexican radio station is playing. She opens the door from there and finds herself in an indoor conservatory covered by a triodetic dome (the film-makers used the Bloedel Floral Conservatory). She finds her way out of the building and travels into the wilderness, enjoying her freedom and communicating with the cosmos.
Nyle goes in search of Elena
Nyle, meanwhile, has arrived back at the institute and is lusting after Elena. After finding her missing, he goes in search of her in his car, using the tracking device she had earlier been implanted with. After reaching the end of the road, Nyle, now on foot and searching the wilderness, comes across two heshers listening to metal music, drinking beer and smoking marijuana. He kills both with "The Devil's teardrop".
Nyle eventually corners Elena in a clearing, where she uses her psychic powers to fatally fling his head onto a rock. Free of her captor, Elena follows the light generated by a television set to a nearby town. Following the credits, the camera focuses on the floor of a living room with late 1970s/early 1980s decor; an action figure of a Sentionaut lies in the middle of the room. A static voice can be heard asking, "Do you read me?" twice before the film ends.
Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) is the film's main antagonist. We learn from the 1966 Arboria Institute promotional film that Nyle was "Head of Research" and, along with Mercurio Arboria, one of a team of specialists who can lead people to spiritual happiness. At some point after the creation of the institute, Nyle developed a strong attraction to Anna Arboria, Mercurio's wife. It was in 1966 that Nyle underwent a psychic journey into transcendence with the aid of hallucinogens and the help of Mercurio and Anna. The "journey" ended in tragedy when Nyle woke up in a state of violent psychosis and killed Anna Mercurio. The after-effects of the journey on Nyle was permanent alopecia and damage to both irises. His face was also damaged, which required temporary bandaging. Psychologically, the experience rendered him permanently insane, and also conferred upon him a sexual fetish for leather clothing. The experience also gave Nyle some psychic powers, including the ability to read minds (which can be inferred by his facial reactions around people). Nyle married Rosemary at some point and lived with her in remote house some distance away from the institute. By 1983, Nyle & Rosemary's relationship had grown strained. He drove a sports coupe between home and work. The name "Barry Nyle" means "Spear of Desire"
Elena (Eva Allan) is the film's protagonist. Elena is the daughter of Anna and Mercurio Arboria. Soon after her birth, her mother was killed by Barry Nyle, and her father decided, as with Nyle, that she should also undergo a psychic journey - a process that Mercurio believed would bring about a new dawn in the human race. As a result, she was also given hallucinogens and lowered into a thick black liquid. This experience conferred upon her very powerful psychic abilities but with none of the drawbacks that had affected Nyle. Elena, however, is kept as a virtual prisoner at the institute and has not seen or experienced the outside world beyond what she sees on television. Elena is virtually mute and says no more than a handful of words in the film. She is also under the care of Barry Nyle, and is kept away from her father, Mercurio Arboria. By 1983, Elena is between 17-18 years old, and her psychic powers have grown stronger. She is kept in isolation and the only people she comes into contact with are Barry Nyle and her nurse/orderly Margo. The name "Elena" means "Shining Light" or "Bright One".
Mercurio Arboria (Scott Hylands). Arboria is a new age spiritual leader who founded the Arboria Institute in order to help people find spiritual happiness and transcendence. He is ambitious, too, asking that Barry Nyle "Bring home the mother lode" from his spiritual journey. Mercurio was married to Anna and they were both the parents of Elena. After the death of his wife at the hands of his protégé, Arboria decides to risk his infant daughter to the same process. By 1983 Arboria had descended into an addiction to narcotics and rarely, if ever, left his domicile located deep underground at the bottom of the Institute. To pass the time, Arboria watches old videos from the Institute's early days, videos on nature or even tourist videos. Arboria has become so disassociated with the world that his room and skin have become covered with dust and mold, and insects are freely climbing the walls. The name "Mercurio Arboria" means "Nature's Messenger"
Rosemary Nyle (Marilyn Norry). Rosemary is Barry's wife and together they live in a modern home some distance away from the institute. While she claims to be meditating, Barry suspects or knows that she is actually sleeping. Her attitude is servile and her manner is often docile, the latter possibly due to an intake of hallucinogens. She seeks to verbally support or validate Barry in some way, often blaming herself for anything that has gone wrong. Her name means "Bitter Rose".
Margo (Rondel Reynoldson). Margo is a nurse/orderly who works for the Arboria Institute and looks after Elena in particular. Margo has little in the way of empathy towards Elena and has a suspicious and unpleasant temperament. Her duties include moving and preparing Elena for treatment, bringing in her meals and medical data entry. She is aware of Elena's psychic ability and once had a minor nosebleed as a result of Elena's telekenesis. She smokes and wears an ill-fitting cream uniform. Her name means "Pearl".
Anna Arboria (Sara Stockstad) Seen only in a flashback and in a photo, Anna Arboria was the mother of Elena and wife of Mercurio. When describing her to Elena, Nyle recalls her as being beautiful and desirable. Anna was killed by Nyle soon after Nyle returned from his psychic journey in 1966. The name "Anna Arboria" means "Nature's Gift".
Sentionaut (Roy Campsall). A re-animated or artificial life form kept in storage at the Arboria Institute, the Sentionaut was put into action by Nyle after Margo's death. The Sentionaut appears as a very tall and thin humanoid creature, wearing what looks like a close-fitting red spacesuit. Its head is covered by a red helmet with no visible visor, which completely covers its face. When confronted by Elena and forced to remove its helmet, the Sentionaut's face and head are revealed to be completely white, with blind eyes and an unmoving mouth. The term "Sentionaut" is similar in construction to the terms "Astronaut" or "Cosmonaut", with the suffix -naut referring to a traveller while the prefix refers to the location of its travels: in this case, "Sentionaut" means "one who travels into self-awareness", with the prefix being based on the word Sentience.
As a kid Cosmatos used to frequent a video store entitled Video Addict. During these trips he would frequently browse the horror movie section looking at the boxes although he was not allowed to watch such movies. During such times he would instead imagine what the movie was. He would later reflect upon this experience when making Black Rainbow where one of his goals was "to create a film that is a sort of imagining of an old film that doesn’t exist." The year 1983 was chosen for the storyline as it's the first year he went to Video Addict. Additionally he thought the idea of setting such a film one year before 1984 was funny. The movie's genesis was an overlap between two projects Cosmatos wanted to do. One of these was a movie about a girl trapped in an asylum while the other was an installation promoting a research facility that didn't exist. Eventually Cosmatos realized that he could use both ideas in the same project.
The presence of his parents haunts "every frame of this film", said the Rome-born filmmaker. His father was movie director George P. Cosmatos (whose credits include Rambo: First Blood Part II and Cobra), deceased in April 2005, and his mother Swedish sculptor Birgitta Ljungberg-Cosmatos, who died in July 1997 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Unable to deal with his mother's death, Panos "drifted into a slow motion mode of self-destruction and binge drinking". When elder Cosmatos died, the grief he felt compounded. After that the aspiring writer/director started therapy and decided he wanted to make a movie as part of the healing process. Cosmatos felt that his "filmmaking sensibility is a weird hybrid of both of them" - his father's "popcorn movies" and his mother's haunting, experimental art.
Beyond the Black Rainbow was financed by DVD residuals from Tombstone (1993), directed by Panos' father. The movie was shot in three weeks using a modified Panavision 35 mm camera. This was suggested by cinematographer Norm Li, for he noted the Panos' references – mostly films from the '70s and '80s – "were all grainy, colorful, and full of texture", and he felt the 35 mm format was "the only way to shoot" BtBR.
Beyond the Black Rainbow has been praised for its visual style. Cosmatos declared that his "modernist" use of color was influenced by Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986) and The Keep (1983). The blue hue cinematography – the "night mode" as Cosmatos dubbed it – was inspired by the freezer room scene in John Carpenter's Dark Star (1974). Norm Li cited other references: Daft Punk's Electroma (2006), Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977), and George Lucas' THX 1138 (1971). A number of reviewers noted similarities between BtBR and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971). "I love Stanley Kubrick, and have seen, and probably internalized, all of his work, but any similarity was not my intent", explained Cosmatos. Critics have also compared Beyond the Black Rainbow to Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972), Ken Russell's Altered States (1980), and Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void (2010). Of the latter, the director deemed it "a very interesting, very beautiful film."
The 1966 flashback segment of the movie was inspired E. Elias Merhige's experimental horror film Begotten (1990). Begotten was entirely shot in high contrast black and white, which for Cosmatos "was a perfect look for the flashback because I wanted it to feel like a fading and decayed artifact." The young Barry Niles's acid trip in that segment of Beyond the Black Rainbow was inspired by the "Battle of the Gods" sequence in Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt (1963).
Cosmatos also takes influence from other visual media. The director declared his love for Heavy Metal magazine and the work of French comics artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud. Fantasy art was also an influence, especially Frank Frazetta's paintings. Norm Li stated that both he and the director "also looked at abstract paintings, photographs, and architectural design books" for inspiration.
One of Beyond the Black Rainbow notable characteristics is its deliberately slow, hypnotic pace. According to Cosmatos, Beyond the Black Rainbow belongs to what he dubbed the "trance film" subgenre. Cosmatos mentioned Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979), Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Saul Bass's Phase IV (1974) as cinematographic blueprints for his debut film. Cosmatos explained the rationale behind his screenwriting, which downplays the "very concrete story at the heart of it" in favor of an "atmospheric" approach:
|“||I decided to just write as straightforward as possible, then let the visuals and the look of the film bloom around something that was pretty straightforward. At the end of the day, I decided to bring down the story elements to allow the visual and the story elements to come more into the foreground, to make it more dream-like and less story-driven.||”|
Jeremy Schmidt, keyboard player for Vancouver-based rockers Black Mountain, was invited by Cosmatos to compose the movie's soundtrack. "Evil Ball", a track from Schmidt's solo project, Sinoia Caves, was used by the movie's director on a private screening held for Schmidt. A mutual appreciation for Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter soundtracks and Giorgio Moroder's music for American Gigolo (1980) cemented their bond. Schmidt also pointed out the background music from The Shining (1980) and Risky Business (1983) as musical blueprints for the Beyond the Black Rainbow score.
Regarding the impact of The Shining's soundtrack on his score, Schmidt singled out the compositions by György Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki as sonic touchstones. Their music had already been featured the sci-fi and horror genres, two of Cosmatos main cinematic obsessions when young. Ligeti pieces "Lux Aeterna" and "Atmosphères" had been featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Penderecki's "Polymorphia" and a portion of "The Devils of Loudun" was used in The Exorcist (1973).
For his analog synth score, Schmidt used the following equipment: a Prophet 5, two Oberheims, Moog Taurus bass pedals, a Korg CX-3 organ and a Mellotron. An extensive use of the Mellotron can be heard on the "flashback" sequence, where Cosmatos had been using Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" as a temp track. All in all, "the chosen palette of sounds definitely harkens back to 'The New Age of Enlightenment'", said Schmidt. The music was mixed by Joshua Stevenson at Otic Sound, Vancouver, Canada.
Director Cosmatos stated that he's interested in social control mechanisms, our own personal, internal controls and how religion affects our consciousness and society. These philosophical ideas are present in Beyond the Black Rainbow, a film centered on issues of repression and control of emotions. Cosmatos partly picked up these themes by reading the science fiction works of Beat novelist William S. Burroughs, books by and large dealing with societal control.
According to Cosmatos, the "rigid geometric world" of the Arboria Institute visually fits the movie's control theme. This is especially true for the Dr. Nyles character, someone "very knowledged, trying to create a very controlled environment to give himself a feeling of power." The light triangle, responsible for dampening Elena's psychic powers, is another control symbol. The Institute's plethora of reflecting surfaces – the walls in the hallways, the giant piece of glass in the therapy room, the infinity-mirrored Sentionaut room, Margo's glasses – might somewhat hint at this idea. To many ancient cultures, the mirror was a symbol of self-awareness, consciousness and intelligence, but also a source of pride and vanity. The visual reference for Arboria Institute's indoor design was THX 1138.
The movie's control leitmotif is shown in a subtler way by reflecting North America's political climate in the 1980s. Beyond the Black Rainbow has been called a "Reagan-era fever dream". Its paranoid, Cold War mood contains nods to the late US president – through clips of ominous televised speeches by Ronald Reagan himself – and former Panamenian general and convicted drug lord Manuel Noriega (Dr. Nyles's "Noriega" jacket). The South American dictator had direct involvement in the "Iran-Contra" scandal. Noriega's fight against the Sandinistas, Nicaragua's left-wing guerrillas, was backed up by the CIA and the Pentagon. The CIA funded Noriega's military campaign with profits from the illegal sale of arms to Iran. The CIA also turned a blind eye to Noriega's drug trafficking.
Another of Beyond the Black Rainbows main themes is identity. In the course of the movie Dr. Nyles experiences a radical change of personality whose roots lie in the terrifying drug experience he had in the 1960s, under Mercurio Arboria's supervision. Being exposed to his shadow side so intensely crippled not only his mind, but his body: Barry is forced to use appliances such as a wig and contact lenses. Similar to many a Lovecraftian protagonist, Barry Nyles is ultimately a pathetic character: his far-reaching knowledge, restrained demeanor and carefully controlled work environment are unable to dominate the forces of irrationality and chaos burning in his mind. In the end, the doctor undergoes a physical and psychological transformation where he forfeits all control and gives in to madness.
Cosmatos admits a dislike for Baby Boomer's spiritual ideals, an issue he addresses in Beyond the Black Rainbow. For him, the Boomer's search for alternative belief systems made them dabble in the dark side of occultism, which in turn corrupted their quest for spiritual enlightenment. The use of psychedelic drugs for mind-expansion purposes is also explored, although Cosmatos's take on it is "dark and disturbing", a "brand of psychedelia that stands in direct opposition to the flower child, magic mushroom peace trip" wrote a reviewer. UGO's Jordan Hoffman noted both elements, stating in his review that in the movie some "up-to-no-good new age scientists have let their experiments with consciousness-altering drugs mutate a young woman" – in this case, Elena. Cosmatos explains why Dr. Arboria's mission to create a superior human being ultimately failed:
|“||I look at Arboria as kind of naïve. He had the best of intentions of wanting to expand human consciousness, but I think his ego got in the way of that and ultimately it turned into a poisonous, destructive thing. Because Arboria is trying to control consciousness and control the mind. There is a moment of truth in the film where the whole thing starts to disintegrate because it stops being about their humanity and becomes about an unattainable goal. That is the "Black Rainbow": trying to achieve some kind of unattainable state that is ultimately, probably destructive.||”|
Cosmatos noted that critical reception of the film was originally "kind of muted, even downright negative" at first, but it began picking up better reviews after Tribeca 2011.
Currently, the film has a rating of 46% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 23 reviews and an average score of 5.4/10. Negative reviews focused generally on the surreal inscrutability of the plot and accusations of shallow pastiche, with Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calling it "all ambiance and no substance" and Joe Neumaier of The New York Daily News calling it a boring failure. Mark Feeney of The Boston Globe cited the atmosphere as initially being impressive but eventually becoming laughable, with the concept better suited to a short film. Some mixed reviews, like William Goss of MSN, praised the film's surreal atmosphere and synth score, despite finding it "not my cup of crazy", while Marjorie Baumgarten of the Austin Chronicle cited the movie as inexplicable and incomprehensible, while praising the visuals. Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times also gave a mixed review, highlighting the appeal to fans of midnight movies.
Positive reviews highlighted the cult appeal, such as Matt Singer of Time Out, who welcomed the return of challenging, surreal midnight movies. Alison Willmore of the A.V. Club rated it B+, praising its style and daring form. Don R. Lewis of Film Threat also praised the film, saying, "As a cinema fan I was blown away at the control and attention to detail Cosmatos showed." Samuel Zimmerman of Fangoria said the film "makes me lament that the general population of U.S. moviegoers isn't more adventurous", rating it 3 out of 4 stars.
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