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Film / Beyond the Black Rainbow

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A State Of Mind / A Way Of Being
Hello. My name is Dr. Mercurio Arboria, and I am the founder of the Arboria Institute. It has long been my dream to find the perfect way for people to achieve, simply, happiness. Contentment. Inner peace. These seem to be things that, strangely, elude us all — but it doesn't have to be that way. We at Arboria have found a path to achieve them.

Beyond the Black Rainbow is a 2010 Science Fiction Psychological Thriller film, with a side of Surreal Horror. It is the debut film by Canadian writer and director Panos Cosmatos (Mandy (2018)).

Set in 1983, the film follows a girl named Elena, a telepath studied and locked inside a New Age research compound, and the unstable therapist that supervises her. Things start getting astoundingly weirder very quickly. The film is shot in the deliberately slow, sterile, and excessively polished style of '70s cold sci-fi movies, such as THX 1138 and Solaris, as well as 1980s cinema that continues in a similar vein such as Scanners. It also features a mostly Drone of Dread score.


This film provides examples of:

  • Addled Addict: Between the production of the introductory film strip and the events of the film, Dr. Arboria has suffered a devastating Descent into Addiction as his utopian dream became more and more of a Cosmic Horror Story.
  • An Aesop:
    • Be wary of utopian dreams, as utopian ambitions can easily become destructive when divorced from ethical principles.
    • Psychedelic drugs are not harmless tools for enlightenment. When used by people with existing mental instability, or used without consideration for set and setting, psychedelics can bring about terrifying experiences and trigger mental health problems.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Elena uses one to travel between rooms.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • When Barry receives a phone call at home, even though the phone is disconnected, who is he talking to? Is some otherworldly entity communicating with Barry, perhaps an entity he encountered during his psychedelic experience in 1966? Is Barry just hallucinating as part of his rapid descent into psychosis?
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    • Why does the Sentionaut allow Elena to escape? Is the Sentionaut mindless without Barry or Margo to give it orders? Does it recognize Elena as a fellow victim of the Arboria Institute's experiments?
    • What exactly does the black liquid do? Does it simply induce psychedelic experiences, psychic powers, and mutations? Is it a gateway into another realm of reality, where malevolent entities exist? Barry claims that he saw the "eye of God" during his 1966 psychedelic experience, which could have been a drug-induced delusion, an encounter with an eldritch entity, or an encounter with the divine, which would have terrifying implications for the world in which the movie takes place.
    • At the climax of the film, Barry confronts Elena in a field, discovers that he can't move his feet, falls over, and hits his head on a stone, which kills him. It's unclear if Elena telekinetically paralyzed his feet and pushed him down, or if Barry's feet got caught in some tree roots and he fell down by accident.
    • We empathize with Elena because her captive position makes her the movie's protagonist. However, there's nothing to say she won't use her own psychic powers to abuse and manipulate others if she ever gets the chance.
  • Arc Symbol: Eyes figure prominently throughout the movie. The title sequence features a close-up of a dilating pupil and is set to the song "Forever Dilating Eye" by Sinoia Caves. Underneath his contacts, Barry has black eyes. Barry kills Rosemary by crushing her eyes. Barry claims to have seen the "eye of God" during his 1966 psychedelic experience. In the 1966 flashback scene, Barry has drawn a third eye on his forehead in preparation for his psychedelic experience in the black liquid. The scene later gives viewers an overhead view of the pool of black liquid, which looks like a dilated pupil when viewed from above.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: The Arboria Institute. Mirrors, hard surfaces, sterile walls, and TV screens everywhere give the building this aesthetic.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Implied. Rosemary seems to walk on eggshells around Barry, acting kind and gentle when he is in the house but hiding understated anxiety. Barry, for his part, can barely contain his disgust for Rosemary, hiding it under a veil of civility. He spends so much time at the Arboria Institute that he comes home late at night, so the two barely see each other. Rosemary sleeps on the sofa, suggesting that she and Barry do not share a bed. Before Barry murders her, he dismisses her as "nothing" and "spit in the wind.
  • Bad Powers, Bad People: Barry uses his powers for evil. Although Elena is the designated protagonist due to being his victim, it's left open to debate how she'll use her own powers once she's escaped from the Institute.
  • Bald of Evil: Dr. Nyle, though he is vain enough about it to hide his baldness with a wig for most of the story. Once he snaps and goes Ax-Crazy, he removes the wig.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Dr. Nyle tells Elena by the end that she looks beautiful when she sleeps.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Dr. Nyle, though he hides them behind colored contact lenses until he goes Ax-Crazy.
  • Black Magic: What the psychic energy contained within the Arboria Institute effectively is.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: Margo, who treats Elena callously.
  • Benevolent Conspiracy: Implied at the beginning. Its results are not so much.
  • Big Bad: Dr. Barry Nyle.
  • Brown Note: The low humming on the soundtrack that indicates that the Pyramid is active and suppressing Elena.
  • Came Back Strong: Elena's "baptism" in the black liquid gave her Off The Scale Psychic Powers that Nyle covets and keeps suppressed via Arboria's technology.
  • Came Back Wrong:
    • Dr. Nyle's dip in the primordial ooze had this affect on him.
    • It's also implied as the possible back story of the Sentionaut and the creature in the straightjacket.
  • Cool Car: Dr. Nyle drives a wedge sports car only a step removed from older concept models. However, it's really the only cool thing about his look or surroundings.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Dr. Nyle claims to have seen "the eye of God" and "the Black Rainbow" during his transformation.
  • Creepily Long Arms: The Sentionaut.
  • Creepy Child: What the Sentionaut looks like under its helmet. He has a tall humanoid body but the face of an infant.
  • Critical Staffing Shortage: Played for suspense. The Arboria compound may or may not have been larger at one point, but its limited staff clues the audience in that something isn't quite as it should be.
  • Cult: The Arboria Institute can be viewed as one, with elements of a Mystery Cult and undercurrents (whether they are intentional or not) of a Religion of Evil.
  • Death by Falling Over: At the climax of the film, Barry confronts Elena in a field, discovers that he can't move his feet, falls over, and hits his head on a stone, which kills him. It's unclear if Elena telekinetically paralyzed his feet and pushed him down, or if Barry's feet got caught in some tree roots and he fell down by accident.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Elena is barefoot in her confinement cell.
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Benign pharmacology" proves to be anything but benign. The anti-drug Aesop fits nicely with the movie's Reagan-era aesthetic, especially when you see what Mercurio Arboria's morphine addiction has done to him.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Elena.
  • Escape from the Crazy Place / Escaped from the Lab: The last third of the movie involves Elena escaping from the Arboria Institute compound as Barry descends deeper into madness.
  • Establishing Shot: Relentlessly subverted. An establishing shot of a room is likely to be done through macro photography of the carpet.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The only person for whom Barry has any warmth is Dr. Arboria. In the 1966 flashback, Barry does not attack Dr. Arboria during his psychotic break, even though he murdered Anna moments before. Barry makes sure that Dr. Arboria is housed in pleasant conditions at the Arboria Institute in his sunset years. While Barry's words and demeanor are menacing with everyone else, he's respectful while interacting with Dr. Arboria. Even after Barry descends deeper into madness, he kills Dr. Arboria with a drug overdose that allows his mentor to slip away peacefully and painlessly, in contrast to the violent ways he kills others.
  • Evil Costume Switch: Barry goes from his Carl Sagan getup, contacts and toupee into an oil black jacket... granted, he was already shown/implied to be pretty sinister before, but at this point he becomes considerably less restrained about it.
  • Evil Is Sterile: The Arboria Institute's interior, naturally.
  • Evil Sorcerer: The Arboria Institute staff's functional roles given the psychic energy it contains, but especially Barry in his control of the pyramid and the Magic Powered Pseudo Science that causes the Sentionaut to be activated by a desktop keyboard shortcut Margo types in.
  • Evil Wears Black: Barry switches into a black moto jacket once he finally snaps and starts murdering people.
  • Eye Scream: A few. A notable one includes Dr. Nyle removing his contacts with needle nose pliers. The removal is not shown, but his moan of pain tells it all.
  • Fade to Black: Whenever there's a scene change, the movie fades to red instead.
  • Flat "What": The skinny hesher mutters a confused "What the fuck?" when spotting the monstrous-looking Dr. Nyle as he is out hunting for Elena.
  • Genre Throwback: To "cold sci-fi" of the 1970s.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: In the Arboria Institute video, Dr. Arboria lists "benign pharmacology" as one of the tools used by his organization to foster happiness and enlightenment. Subverted in the 1966 flashback scene, in which exposure to LSD and the black liquid shattered Barry's mind.
  • Holy Is Not Safe: If Barry did indeed see the "eye of God" in 1966, this trope is in effect.
  • Homage: In terms of style as well as subject matter, to Stanley Kubrick films of the late 1960s and 1970s, as well as science fiction films of the early 1980s.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Sentionaut.
  • Irony: Arboria wanted his movement to produce happiness and enlightenment. Unfortunately, his efforts ended in madness, misery, oppression, and carnage.
  • Lecherous Licking: Dr. Nyle licks the fat hesher's cheek, before accusing him of having "fucked" Elena. The poor, scared sod has absolutely no idea what he is talking about.
  • Left Hanging: The main conflict is resolved before the end, but the film ends very abruptly and many things remain unexplained.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Barry is not shown to have much interaction with other humans, including his wife, Rosemary, beyond the bare minimum. The only person he seems to be found of is Dr. Arboria.
  • Mad Scientist: Or mad pseudo-scientist, Barry.
  • Magic Is Evil: While The Arboria Institute is a setting with a very science fiction feel, most of its controls (such as the pyramid and the Sentionaut) are seemingly powered through psychic abilities that resemble magic more than science.
  • Magic Powered Pseudo Science: The entire Arboria Institute is based on a dark version of this.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Mercurio Arboria's first name can be seen as a reference to mercury, a toxic substance that causes brain damage and shortens life if consumed, but which was at some points in history falsely believed to have positive medical effects.
    • Barry Nyle's first name sounds like "Bare", and his last name sounds like "Nihil", as in "nihilism". As the story progresses, Barry Nihil's character arc strips away the Utopian idealism of the Arboria Institute's facade, laying bare the nihilism of the Cosmic Horror Story that it conceals.
    • Elena's name is derived from Helena, another name for Helen of Troy. Divine or spiritual entities may have had a role in both characters' conception, and both are a source of obsession on behalf of forces that desire to possess them as a way to consolidate their own power.
  • Mind Manipulation: The Arboria Institute has more than a few tools to achieve this goal, including a pyramid and a computer that can activate a minion to inject an unconscious resident with drugs.
  • Mind Rape: The flashback sequence to 1966. It's credible that Mind Rape is what results when you've just begun tripping on an experimental hallucinogen and your supposed "guide" lays some heavy responsibility on you, like "Bring home the mother lode." Thanks a lot, Dr. Arboria.
  • Mind Screw: Endlessly. It reaches the point that a perfectly ordinary Establishing Shot of a perfectly ordinary staff break room will unwind your mind.
  • Mushroom Samba: The 1966 flashback sequence (if not the whole movie.)
  • New Age: A number of classic New Age tropes - such as belief in the spiritual focusing power of pyramid shapes and a fixation on psychoactive drugs as a source of inspiration - are given a nightmarish makeover in the form of the inside of the Arboria Institute.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: The soundtrack uses an organ-type synthesizer sound for some of the villain scenes. "Run Program Sentionaut", which plays when the Sentionaut is introduced, makes heavy use of pipe organ sounds.
  • Peace & Love, Incorporated: If you believe their promotional material, Arboria is a holistic psychological research center dedicated to helping people achieve happiness and realize their full potential.
  • Perverted Sniffing: Dr. Nyle sniffs Elena's bed after she's gone.
  • Posters Always Lie: Perhaps not the trailer, but looking at the poster, you'd assume this is a B-movie slasher flick. Especially jarring is the depiction of Elena running. Elena does not run anywhere in the film; in fact she strolls everywhere when she's not crawling on all fours. Justified in that the film's concept is inspired by posters for horror and dark science fiction films that the director was fascinated by as a child but then too young to watch.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: Margo gets a nosebleed while escorting Elena.
  • Psychic Powers: Elena has telepathic and telekinetic powers.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Barry.
  • Red Right Hand: When Barry goes into a full Villainous Breakdown, he reveals that he's been wearing a wig and contacts to hide his bald scalp and eerie black eyes. These traits are probably a side effect of what the Arboria Institute has done to him.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • The Arboria Institute is similar to a number of real life New Age-inspired cults with utopian aspirations that took a nosedive into murderous or suicidal tragedy, including the Rajneesh Movement, Jonestown, and Heaven's Gate.
    • The Arboria Institute also seems inspired by the early 1990s Arizona Biodome Incident, which involved the failure of a remote sealed-off compound. While no fatalities occurred, the psychological effects on participants were notable.
    • Depending on how the viewer interprets the notebook that Margo finds, it's possible Barry Nyle is planning a selective breeding program with himself as the main subject - similar to one proposed by the infamous sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein in the early 2000s.
    • The Arboria Institute's mission statement is also cribbed nearly word-for-word from the infamous Esalen Institute.
  • '70s Hair: Dr. Arboria and Barry have very Seventies mops of hair, showing that the Arboria filmstrip is outdated and Barry has not kept up with fashions. The Arboria institute is a time capsule even in the retro 1980s setting.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Barry's pills are from "Benway's Pharmacy," an appropriate shout-out to William S. Burroughs.
    • The way in which he kills his wife is also reminiscent of Tyrell's death in Blade Runner.
    • The flashback to 1966 is shot in high-contrast black and white in homage to E. Elias Merhige's experimental horror film Begotten.
    • The reveal that Barry is bald and wears optical prostheses is filmed similarly to Thomas Jerome Newton's revelation of his alien identity to his human mistress Mary-Lou in The Man Who Fell to Earth, including a transformation in front of a symbolically important mirror.
    • The Sentionaut is wearing gear reminiscent of the spacesuits from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
    • The Sentionaut opening its helmet is similar to the unmasking of the humanoid in The Black Hole.
    • "No matter where you go, there you are" is quoted in the end credits.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Guess where this movie falls? Hint: the entire movie can be taken as a lengthy Nightmare Fuel-driven Take That! at the optimistic aesthetics of 20th century futurism, the inspirational rhetoric of the New Age movement, and bright or outright utopian visions for the future in general - showing the disastrous decay that can come out of efforts to shape a better world or better humanity when those efforts are divorced from ethics.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: much like the Stanley Kubrick films Beyond the Black Rainbow visually references, the film is based on an aesthetic contrast between the two. Notably the "shiny" parts are used for the main character's imprisonment while the "gritty" last half hour of the movie provides hope for escape.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Dr. Nyle pretty much always speaks in a quiet and soft Creepy Monotone. He first breaks it at the end, where Elena's rejection of his command to come back to him, causes a him brief, but noticeable Villainous Breakdown, as he first tearfully begs her to listen to him, before he completely cracks and angrily shouts at her before he dies.
  • Start of Darkness: While Barry doesn't go completely off his rocker until the end of the film, a flashback shows when he actually first went insane and killed Elena's mother.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The film contains two out-of-place songs: "Angel Dust" by metal band Venom (during the scene with the camping heshers) and "Anonymous" by synthpop band SSQ (during the end credits). Compared to the Drone of Dread that is the entire rest of the film, this can come off as jarring.
  • The Stinger: A close-up of a Sentionaut action figure lays on a carpet, as a half-backwards voice exclaims "Do you read me?" over Pac Man Fever noises.
  • Surreal Horror: Oh, yeah. Barry's bizarre visions are just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Symbolic Baptism: A sinister example. After ingesting LSD, Barry immerses himself in a pool of black liquid, experiences awe-inspiring and terrifying visions, and emerges from the liquid a new, evil man.
  • Tainted Veins: The most obvious sign of Dr. Arboria's corruption, both psychically and spiritually, is that his veins on his arms and legs are darkened.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: What Dr. Nyle saw when he tried to "bring home the mother lode."
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: The Arboria Institute (though viewer interpretations can vary) possibly began as a very earnest version of Peace & Love, Incorporated. Twenty years later and... whoops, not so much.
    • Word of God: "I look at Arboria as kind of naive [...] 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."
  • Tragic Villain: It's open to debate how much of Barry's evil is simply him being a highly toxic individual rather than the effects of his bad trip and resultant downward spiral, but it's suggested he would have nowhere near as much unchecked power to be a dangerous monster without having gotten in over his head at the Arboria Institute.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Maybe not the trailer, but the poster spoils Barry's "transformation" into a bald-headed, knife-wielding killer.
  • Two Decades Behind: Aside from having a single early-80s desktop computer, the Arboria Institute has a very '60s/70s aesthetic that implies it hasn't been remodeled or updated lately as of the film's 1983 setting. This is further evidenced by Barry's hairstyle and dated clothing.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Perfecting humanity was the Arboria Institute's initial goal. Too bad it led to Barry's pronounced psychotic break, Elena's captivity, multiple murders, and quite a few seemingly otherworldly horrors.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Barry goes from a cold and calculating Psycho Psychologist to a bald, ranting, hallucinating, knife wielding psychopath.
  • "What Now?" Ending: Elena's escaped the suffocating control of Dr. Nyle and the Institute, but it's left unsure what she will do or face next.
  • White Void Room: The flashback to 1966 takes place entirely in one.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: A strongly suggested side effect of "bringing home the motherlode" of psychic energy.
  • Your Head Asplode: Elena telekinetically kills Margo this way, after Margo took away the photo of Elena's mother and made a cruel comment about her mother's death.


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