Follow TV Tropes


Film / Beyond the Black Rainbow

Go To

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 Brown Note / 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.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: The Arboria Institute.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Elena uses one to travel between rooms.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: Margo.
  • Benevolent Conspiracy: Implied at the beginning. Its results are not so much.
  • Advertisement:
  • Big Bad: Dr. Barry Nyle
  • Bald of Evil / Black Eyes of Evil: Dr. Nyle, once he removes his wig and contacts and goes completely Ax-Crazy.
  • 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 same stuff has given 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 Sentionaut's possible back story.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Establishing Shot: Relentlessly subverted. An establishing shot of a room is likely to be done through macro photography of the carpet.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Genre Throwback: To "cold sci-fi" of the 1970s.
  • 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 science fiction films of the early 1980s.
  • Irony: Arboria wanted his movement to produce happiness and enlightenment. Unfortunately, his efforts ended in misery, oppression, and carnage.
  • 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 beyond the bare minimum.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Minimalist Cast: Used to nightmarish effect with the Critical Staffing Shortage it implies.
  • Mushroom Samba: The flashback sequence (if not the whole movie.)
  • New Age: A number of classic New Age tropes 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.
  • 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.
  • Rape as Backstory: Implied (though it's never really clear) when the Battleaxe Nurse finds a notebook featuring illustrations of male and female sexual organs.
  • 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: In addition to a number of real life New Age-inspired cults with utopian aspirations that went south, The Arboria Institute also seems inspired by the early 1990s Arizona Biodome Incident, which ended fatally for the inhabitants of a remote sealed-off compound. 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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 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.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: