Just because most of the films we watch have easily discernible plots does not mean that films presented otherwise are poorly made. Think of Beyond the Black Rainbow as poetry, not as a novel. If you need a clear explanation for your movies stay away from this film. You'll hate it. If you can enjoy the bizarre, wild mood, and viscerally gorgeous photographic visuals then stick around. If you enjoy films where everything is not spelled out for you then this too might be a sign that Beyond the Black Rainbow is for you. Think of it as the privilege of entering someone else's dream.
In the vein of Land of the Lost, Space 1999, Liquid Sky, Altered States, Coma, Looker, THX1138, Scanners, 2001, and filmmakers like Kubrick, David Cronenberg, Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger and dozens of other films and filmmakers I know and don't know from the 70s and 80s comes Beyond the Black Rainbow. It is a fever dream of a film that is more experience than linear narrative. Imagine a B film from the 1980s was lost and never seen. Beyond the Black Rainbow is supposed to be that lost film. It's here as if from a time machine. The film is a homage to low budget gems from the past; something only seen in some off the beaten path theater away from civilization.
Now despite all reports to the contrary there is some semblance of a narrative here. Remember though that what follows is my interpretation of what I saw. The film is open ended enough to serve yours too. The film is carefully and skillfully constructed so I assume if he wanted things explained more, he would have simply done that. Like the famous Kubrick/Lovecraft quote: "In all things mysterious - never explain."
Spoilers / interpretations ahead:
If I had to write one line that summed up this film's narrative that would be that: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." The film begins with a short film within a film. An idealistic doctor, Mercurio Arboria, introducing his institutions 1960s mission statement about striving to make a better happier you. The Arboria Institute has very noble and altruistic pursuits. Cut to 1983 and we are witness to the tail end of whatever went on there. Bizarre, uncanny, morbid, awkward, claustrophobic, dreamlike, conspiracy, telekinetic, kaleidoscopic, are all words that help describe what exactly is going on deep inside the Arboria institute. Clearly the ideals that started the place have been abandoned or steered the once noble men into dark corners of science and the mind. Clearly as a species any of us can see what horrors human-kinds good intentions have produced. David Cronenberg's early films often showed science run amok. Scanners, Videodrome, and The Fly come to mind where the horrific ends are far from where the science was intended to take the protagonists. This is the crux of what this film is communicating. Human idealism is going to lead us to unexpected places, likely dark, likely far from where we thought we'd wind up. Hence the films title, Beyond the Black Rainbow. Wherever that is, it's far away from where we thought we'd end up.
A lone beautiful girl Elena is catatonic in her cell deep in the Aboria institute. She shows signs of telekinesis. Dr. Barry Nyle keeps Elena under control. Her telekinesis is dampened by a mysterious machine and possibly drugs that keep her powers under control. We eventually learn that she is the probable offspring of her doctor and another woman who was killed to make way for the new age of enlightenment. The 2 doctors have gone mad in the warren of corridors and passageways as they pop pills, drop acid, and shoot up Timothy Leary style. Odd automatons that reminded me of the automatons from The Black Hole or the robots from THX1138 roam the institute too. An ignorant nurse also comes across a compiled medical record of Elena and her powers and the years of insanely odd science that had been applied to her. It served as one of the films most unnerving and beautifully collaged moments.
Barry Nyle clearly has come to the end of his rope and decades of drugs, clinical observations, and hiding his unnatural appearance under wraps with a bad wig and contacts have taken their toll on him. We glimpse the founder, Dr. Mercurio Arboria, deep in the bowels of the institute. He is the shell of his once former self and seems to be on the tail end of decades of drug addiction and watching idealistic nature films. It seems as though Barry wants to ask him for something regarding his increasing fascination with Elena but we are given a flashback that reminded me of the film Begotten. Harsh black and white imagery serves to show us the bizarre science ritual that Barry had to undergo in years past. He emerges from a black pool a changed man and then proceeds to impregnate and/or kill Elena's mother. The child, Elena, is kept alive. Whatever the hell they wound up doing, Elena is the partial result. I was also reminded of Akira too with the telekinesis and I'm sure the homages and influences are endless.
Eventually Elena escapes or is allowed to escape by her doctor. This reminded me of when THX1138 was eventually off his meds and decided to roam freely and explored the odd world he lived in, eventually escaping to the outside world. Elena too escapes and takes us on the wildest ride you are likely to ever be witness to. Again I was reminded of another film, O Lucky Man, where Malcolm McDowell's character is in a hospital at one point and gets up to have a look see and discovers horrors beyond his wildest dreams.
The film ends with a confrontation between Barry and Elena in a field somewhere away from the institute. Two 80s burnouts are unfortunate enough to be in the paranoid path of Barry before he finds her and it's no surprise how the two end up. There is some comedy in here for sure, and again, a nod to many funny awkwardly filmed moments like this from B films of yore.
Elena, no longer under the control of the institute's bizarre machine, and is free to easily tangle Barry's feet with roots and smash him to the ground, his head hitting a rock, killing him. Elena wanders off out of the field to the edge of a neighborhood where we see a TV illuminating one room of a darkened house. We know she is heading there. Then the film ends. After the credits roll we are given a quick shot of an action figure of one of the automatons from earlier. Then a quote from Buckaroo Banzai: "no matter where you go, there you are." Buckaroo Banzai is one of the 1980s more bizarre and odd films to have come out, an odd amalgam of studio authorization of a very bizarre story. It's no wonder the films creator admires this enough to put it in there.
Again, this film is for those who don't mind letting art flow over them and endlessly picking a film apart. It's dreamlike and not easily explained. It needs to be interpreted rather than explained. Despite it being bizarre I suggest you don't shy away from it. There are few modern films out there like this and it's a sheer delight to have experienced.