Some films tend to be like hallucinogens. They induce intense vivid imagery, intoxicating sounds and take you on a trip. When the end credits begin to roll we tend to grapple with the emotions they generated and hours and hours after the experience has ended we analysis, we deconstruct and come to terms with ‘what it all meant’.
Whether it was good or a bad trip, no one forgets such filming experience. One such film is ‘Beyond The Black Rainbow’ written and directed by Panos Cosmatos. It had some bold writing, stunning visuals and mesmerising music – It was one hell of a trip but what did it all mean? Let’s find out.
Essentially ‘Beyond The Black Rainbow’ is about a mad doctor’s obsession with a young girl demonstrating psychic capabilities. Elena the young girl in question is held captive in a 70’s inspired futuristic Arboria Institute and is subjected to Dr. Nyles daily therapy sessions and heinous experiments.
On the surface the film shows how a suppressed Elena fights off her oppressor Dr. Nyle and escapes the institute and gets her first look at the real world. In reality the film has a far deeper meaning. Let’s dive deeper to deconstruct ‘Beyond The Black Rainbow’ – Warning Spoilers ahead.
Once you have scratched the surface, the film reveals its true motive. It’s not about psychic powers and insane science experiments gone wrong or about the rise of the oppressed against their oppressors and it’s definitely not about good vs evil . Its simply a representation of the human nature. In this case two extremes, the corrupted and the pure. Dr. Nyle represents the corrupted human nature which is self centered, envious, narcissist, jealous, gluttonous, obsessive, lustful – pretty much all the deadly sins you could think off. Elena represents the pure human nature, uncorrupted with childlike innocence, curiosity and experiencing everything for the first time.
We all start like Elena, pure and simple but as we grow up and get exposed to the real world we get corrupted at varying levels. The film shows Dr. Nyles corruption process and Elena’s first exposure to the real world. For me, the movie is full of metaphors and I don’t know if it was intended or not but there is no denying Panos Cosmatos is an artist with great imagination. Let’s explore the metaphors used in the film.
The Color Metaphor
If you observe Panos Cosmatos visual style you would notice that whenever Dr. Nyle’s character portrayed expertly by Michael Rogers came on screen, the backgrounds were always flushed with colors like Red and Orange. Red color has often been associated with danger. On the other hand, Panos Cosmatos always associated the colors Blue and White with Elena. White color represents purity. It’s not just the visuals, even the music changed according to each character. Special mention for Sinoia Caves for creating two extreme music pieces – One is full of hope and lifts you up while the other is haunting and nerve racking.
The God Factor
The aging Dr. Arboria is like a father to both Dr. Nyle and Elena. To a certain extent he is like a creator, master or God for both of them. Dr. Arboria helps Dr. Nyle to see beyond his own reality – seek enlightenment and attain a higher plane of existence in the 1966 flashback. Unfortunately what Dr. Nyle saw was a self reflection of how corrupted his true nature had become – Let’s say it was one hell of a bad trip. Dr. Nyle after the experience, temporarily faces insanity and his first act is to kill Dr. Arboria’s wife. Despite this act Dr. Arboria is calm and still cares for Dr. Nyle just like God would care for his creation – even if it turned towards the darkside. Dr. Arboria is also the biological father of Elena and he subjects her to the same spiritual experience. Presumably due to her age and innocence she had a good trip – giving her apparent psychic powers. Dr. Nyle is curious about Elena’s experiences and presumed powers but due to the fear of God (Dr. Arboria) he portrays a calm demeanor in front of Dr. Arboria. The captivity of Elena and the therapy sessions are conducted without the knowledge of Dr. Arboria but Isn’t God Omniscient, Omnipotent and Omnipresent? Well if that were true wouldn’t he had stopped the Paris attacks or Twin Towers destruction? God uses the hands off approach – let the children learn to solve their own problems. I assume Dr. Arboria to certain extent knows what’s going on but chooses to ignore and hopes Dr. Nyle will find his way.
Varying Degrees Of Corruption
Along with Dr. Nyle and Elena there are 4 more important characters at show with varying degrees of corruption. They are Nurse Margo, Wife Rosemary, The Sentionaut and The Zombie Monster.
Nurse Margo is cold hearted and lacks empathy, only thing she cares about is herself. Just like horses she wears blinkers or blinders which allow her to focus only on herself and her goals. Money, status, luxury, comfort take your pick. She doesn’t care about what’s happening around her and she would run over or destroy anything that comes in her path. When she discovers Dr. Nyles secret diary regarding Elena she could have perhaps informed Dr. Arboria about Dr. Nyle’s heinous intentions which are not restricted to science but some are sexual in nature but she chooses to ignore it. Moreover to make sure she gets steady paycheck she forces Elena to give up her mother’s photo. Nurse Margo shows us how far we are willing to go to fulfill our dreams – We ignore the bad, we sport a blind eye to the wrong doers and at times we don’t mind walking the thin red line between Good & Bad if it means achieving our goals. The death of Nurse Margo is a mystery – Many believe she is exterminated by Elena in a fit or rage enhanced by Dr. Nyles weird machine but what if I were to say Elena has no powers whatsoever. What If I told you Dr. Nyle is responsible for the Nurse’s death. What if that machine was the weapon used to destroy Margo’s head? Margo knew too much – Dr. Nyle’s sick plans for Elena and as a result she will always be a threat to Dr. Nyle especially when you know she is goal driven and lacks empathy – She will backstab Dr. Nyle in a heartbeat. Did Dr. Nyle eliminate a threat? Did Dr. Nyle use Margo’s death to elicit a response from Elena? If you see after Nurse Margo is eliminated, Elena starts to cry. She clearly doesn’t understand what has happened and to a certain extent blames herself for Margo’s death.
Wife Rosemary is a perfect foil to Dr. Nyle’s overbearing narcissistic nature – She is docile and servile in nature. Pleasing Dr. Nyle seems important to her. The thought of being alone and taking care of herself – essentially being independent is frightening to her and hence she will do anything to please Dr. Nyle. This nature reminds me of domestic abuse – Where the victim somehow creates a subserving relationship and pleasing the abuser is paramount. Sometimes this leads to Domestic Violence. Many women don’t even know they are in an abusive relationship where the spouses uses psychological abuse to control every aspect of their lives. We need to move away from the age old thinking of women are weak and they need constant protection and care from the men in their lives. We need to begin at the grassroot levels by educating little girls that they are agents of change.
The Sentionaut seems to be an hybrid biotech life form. The life form’s outline is large but from inside the biological form seems to be small almost like a zombie baby. For me the Sentionauts represents the youth of today who have become slaves to their own devices. Technology is taking over every part of their lives turning them into mindless zombies. Our youth is so overly depended on mobiles, laptops, smart watches that these devices control them – Essentially the manufacturers of these devices manipulate them into their bidding. The Sentionaut similarly is controlled by Dr. Nyle to keep young Elena in check.
The Zombie Monster represents the most vile, wicked, abominable, horrid, repulsive, disgusting and corrupt human beings. They are so corrupted and degraded that calling them human beings will be an insult to our race. They have become monsters. Rapist, Mass Murderers, Paedophiles, Terrorist etc. would possibly be classified as monsters. Elena comes face to face with one such monster during her escape from the institute and she barely escapes its clutches.
God Has Left The Building
Dr. Arboria at one point in time feels that his work is done. Dr. Arboria feels he has passed all his knowledge to Dr. Nyle and that Dr. Nyle is ready to face the world without him to watchover. Dr. Arboria as a result decides to move on from this life existence. Finally when Dr. Nyle injects Dr. Arboria he is free from God’s rules and teachings and the true nature of Dr. Nyle is exposed.
Dr. Nyle is vain and puts a lot of effort on his appearance, elaborate wig and contact lenses, copious amount of drugs presumably to hide his age and most probably has had some skin grafting. To simply put Dr. Nyle fears exposing his true nature. He is manipulative and cunning but after the passing away of Dr. Arboria he longer fears anyone and that freedom allows him to expose his real self. He is the Green Eyed Monster. Jealous, envious, distrustful, suspicious. Dr. Nyle doesn’t value what he has and killing his wife is symbolic of destroying relationships because you don’t value your partner and feel you are better and deserve better. Dr. Nyle is obsessed with Elena, with her transcendence, her purity and beauty. He desires her in every way possible and due to his suspicious nature, he in a fit of rage kills the hippies.
Elena was held captive all her life and was not exposed to the real world. Despite her age she essentially represents A New Born. Completely innocent, pure and eager to learn and feel the world for the first time. Cartoons, mud on her feet, her first sleep under the stars all are metaphoric of how a child begins to experience the wonders of this world. Unfortunately this world is no paradise along with the good comes the bad and Dr. Nyle represents the dangers Elena would face in real life.
The Controversial Ending
Dr. Nyle somehow manages to catch up with Elena and orders her to come to him. This is pivotal moment in the film. What will happen? Will corruption destroy the innocence? Will Innocence melt corruption? It all depends on your nature – are you hopeful or may be a pessimistic, perhaps a realist? Your true nature would weigh in heavily before Panos Cosmatos reveals his vision. Many feel the movie falls flat in the end. Many feel Panos Cosmatos final scenes are anticlimactic. Many viewers felt Elena used her psychic abilities to keep Dr. Nyle’s feet stuck on to the ground. Trying to leap forward, Dr. Nyle flings his head fatally onto a rock. Out goes all the metaphors. Don’t they? but wait this film is metaphoric journey and the end is no different. As mentioned earlier Elena doesn’t have any psychic powers, so what keeps Dr. Nyle stuck on to the ground? Dr. Nyle isn’t actually stuck on to the ground, if you see closely he has stepped into some vines and his feet have entangled with them. He could have simply unentangled them and proceeded to capture Elena but we all are self destructive. We no longer sit and try to solve problems, rather we just use brute force to punch our way out of those problems. Solution to all problems seem to be nuclear wars, terrorist attacks and violence. We as a race are on the verge of self extinction and Panos Cosmatos captures this beautifully. Instead of calmly resolving and untangling those vines, Dr. Nyle uses brute force to find his way out and inadvertently assures his self extinction.
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” – Albert Einstein
Beyond The Black Rainbow is part of those gems which are always open to interpretations. What I have presented is just an alternative take on the film. I guess films like these somehow manage to induce your state of mind on to them. I wonder what does it say about my own state of mind. You might have a different take on it and I know for Panos Cosmatos it was a part of his healing process to cope with the loss of his parents and his struggle against “slow motion mode of self-destruction and binge drinking”
In the end, how corrupted have we become? Is there any hope? Well it all comes down to are you hopeful or may be a pessimistic, perhaps a realist?