The human eye can distinguish about 10 million colors.
Photoreceptor cells known as cones allow for this color-vision, and the greater amount of cones an organism possesses the more variants of color it can process.
Humans have three, butterflies five and tropical Mantis Shrimp quite astonishingly have 16.
Known as sea locusts by ancient Assyrians, Mantis Shrimp sport hyperspectoral vision, able to see both ultraviolet light and many shades of color we cannot even imagine.
They also have the luxury of possessing some of the most powerful claws of any crustacean, and have been known to break through aquarium glass with a single blow from them.
It is this idea of aggression in unforeseen realms that dominate director Panos Cosmatos’ debut Beyond The Black Rainbow, a compelling and enigmatic journey into the surreal and often unexplainable emotions of the human condition.
The film opens in the year 1983, and centers around a facility known as the Arboria Institute, founded by Dr. Mercurio Arboria whose primary objective is to research and obtain the hidden workings of inner peace by means of experimental horticulture and sensory therapy.
Despite the institute’s initial efforts in constructing a gateway towards a more fulfilling and utopian society, the unexpected side effects of failed experiments soon seep their way into the mind of Arboria’s colleague Dr. Barry Nyle, who transforms the labyrinthine hallways and corridors of the complex into his own private laboratory, focusing his energy on the mysterious patient Elena, who desperately seeks answers to her past while trying to escape the sinister motivations of Dr. Nyle.
Soon, all three characters will be plunged into a maelstrom of fear and discovery, gasping for breath as the shifting shadows of menace invade every inch of their being.
The film, like the objectives of the characters, is a study in the extreme stimulation of the senses, and what insight and revelations can be obtained from it.
First time helmer Cosmatos peels back every layer of reality, leaving skeletal abstractions that fill each darkened corner with a heightened and often intriguing state of being; from Sinoia Caves’ epic analog synthesizer score to Norm Li’s hypnotic camerawork, the viewer is no longer just a spectator but has been formally admitted to this harrowing sanatorium, where ideas of time, language and life wash away in a current of expanded consciousness.
Because of the emphasis on the hallucionary visual components of the piece, it’s easy to dismiss it as an exercise in extreme style, lacking any meaningful narrative or thematic elements. This however seems a far too simplistic view, and does not take into consideration the care with which Cosmatos has crafted many of the characters, especially Barry Nyle.
Nyle, played by Canadian actor Michael Rogers who has had supporting roles in films such as The Assassination Of Jesse James and Two For The Money, is a sort of mobile mirror, a distorted reflection of the false hopes and growing evils that now infect his mind and heart.
His character is not simply a troubled man, but an evolving manifestation of pivotal 20th century societal change, leaving the warm idealism of the late 1960’s and moving into the uncertainty and fear of the Cold War era.
Growing up in the 70’s, this transitional period would have been something Cosmatos would have experienced firsthand, and he uses both the optimism and pessimism of the time to illuminate an experience that transcends words and comprehensible actions, and instead transforms into a visceral free floating bit of raw human emotion.
It is an experience that will not soon be forgotten.