By Kyle B. Stiff
“Bring home the mother lode, B. Stiff…”
The key to understanding Black Rainbow is to have some knowledge of MK ULTRA and the CIA’s involvement in hippie culture. A little understanding of modern ufology also helps. You don’t need thousands of pages of heavily redacted government documents complete with blurry photos proving that JFK was on the set of the fake moon landing, but you need to know that they happened. Otherwise it’s like not knowing what a gun is and never having heard of World War II, and then watching Dunkirk or Saving Private Ryan; you’d think you were watching a random montage of fever dream images with no basis in reality, rather than a fairly straightforward story!
MK ULTRA… the condensed version. So in the 60s the Central Intelligence Agency ran a lot of strange experiments testing the limits of the human mind. One of the objectives was to find a way to keep a soldier from divulging secrets during interrogation; another objective was to try to make someone follow orders they had no conscious awareness of (this is where the idea of a Manchurian Candidate comes from). Those are both really the same objective, and the idea is to fragment a person’s mind, give information and orders to one facet of consciousness, hide that facet from the conscious mind, and then be able to recall that hidden facet using trigger words or phrases.
It might sound crazy, but in the 70s a bunch of documents about it were discovered. They were remnants of documents that were supposed to be destroyed when the CIA was covering its tracks in the wake of Watergate. There were hearings in the senate, and the whole affair is far stranger than anything you can imagine if you’ve never heard of it – look into it if you’re at all curious about the bizarre world you live in. One important thing to keep in mind about MK ULTRA is that drugs were a large part of the program; when you’re trying to bend and shift and fold and stretch the human mind, drugs are the most powerful tools you have at your disposal.
Of course, hallucinogens like LSD were in heavy use by the CIA, and plenty of agents were involved in the drug scene in America in the 60s. The hippie movement was not as organic as it would seem. Maybe any scene that moves young and impressionable minds is orchestrated to some extent. Whether some rogue branch of the CIA were the puppet masters or just another pawn in the game, I have no idea. But there’s a reason why the FBI was adamant about looking for Communists in the CIA, and why you don’t find too many Republican hippies!
That’s enough background. I’m getting old and I don’t have the patience I used to. Let’s move on to the actual film!
Beyond the Black Rainbow takes place in a secret MK ULTRA facility where a girl named Elena is imprisoned. She has psychic powers, much like El from Stranger Things, a story inspired by the same interdimensional muse. Both stories also take place in the 80s, during the Satanic Panic, a time similar to our own when a large pedophile ring is rumored to be operating just under the radar (remember, if you can drug and record a politician having sex with a child, you can control said politician). Though Black Rainbow takes place in the 80s, its roots are in the 60s, when Dr. Mercurio Arboria founded the Arboria Institute. There were a lot of places like the Arboria Institute in the 60s, where funding was given to hippies who got blasted on psychedelics and talked about how All is One and we were on the verge of a utopia. Sorry if I’m trampling the mystique but I’m trying to cover a lot of material in a short amount of time.
Dr. Arboria had an assistant named Barry Nyle (the last name is probably indicative of nihilism). Barry made the ultimate sacrifice by taking part in Dr. Arboria’s experiment to push a human beyond all limitations. First he took a concentrated dose of LSD, then he submerged himself in a pool of hallucinogenic goop. Barry crossed the abyss of Da’ath and was stripped of everything, including his humanity, and the thing that came back from that trip was no longer human. There was an unnamed woman helping out during this experiment; Barry loved her, but Dr. Arboria had already scooped her up. The human Barry would have been content to stifle his jealousy and cover it with a sad smile, but the demon living in the shell of Barry did not hesitate – he killed her.
Dr. Arboria was so swept up in his own narrative and his sense of being on a mission that he didn’t turn Barry in to the police for murder, and thus jeopardize his Institute. Instead, he assumed that Barry’s actions were informed by a higher intelligence beyond mere human understanding. He probably saw Barry as an avatar of the New Aeon, and he named Barry as his successor to the Arboria Institute.
Of course the idealistic 60s gave way to the “business first” ethos of the 80s, replacing rambling jackoffs like Bob Dylan with charming psychopaths like JR Ewing. The hallucinogens of the Arboria Institute were replaced with mood altering pills. In many scenes Barry looks like he is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but after a few shiny pills (“Half a gram is better than a damn!”) his frown turns upside down.
Barry (or Dr. Nyle) is undoubtedly the antagonist of the film, but he’s also a victim himself. He is clearly young and impressionable in the 60s flashback. Moreover, I believe the woman he lives with is not necessarily his wife – she is his handler (though she may play the role of his wife). In modern conspiracy mythology, all victims of MK ULTRA mind control have “handlers” – that is, one or more people who provide upkeep, reconditioning, and jobs for their fragmented subjects. It is worth noting that Barry’s handler is also a victim of MK ULTRA herself. When her handler calls to provide verbal triggers and instructions, she’s too zonked out to answer the phone; Barry answers, and he knows that he’s listening to his handler’s handler. He is crushed to find out that he is not a paragon of enlightenment and power, but only one link in a chain of command. The phone call marks the beginning of his desire to break free from his prison.
Barry’s bizarre and disturbing transformation at the end marks the final shedding of humanity. Taking off his wig and eye contacts are a way of removing his mask of humanity. He puts on a leather suit because, to a demon without a solid identity, a body is merely a “leather suit”, or something one wears to go on a joyride. He talks to himself in the car, as both driver and passenger, a fragmented consciousness that can never be made whole, utterly narcissistic and beyond any moral limitation (“You’re doing so good!”).
RUN PROGRAM > SENTIONAUTS
When Elena collapses outside of her cell, she has to be safely transported back inside. Barry activates a Sentionaut to do the work – that is, an android controlled by a computer program. At the end of the film, when Elena is escaping from the facility, she shuts down a Senionaut using her psychic powers.
What is a Sentionaut? They’re a common staple of modern alien mythology and ufology. In fact, lots of conspiracy types figure that your typical “Gray alien” is an android meat-puppet. They seem to have no will of their own, low intelligence, abject fear of those higher on the pay scale, etc. The Sentionaut shown without his mask even looks sort of like a Gray alien. Also note that the Sentionaut implants a homing beacon in Elena’s neck. How many stories have we heard of Gray aliens putting implants into abductees?
THE CONTROL PYRAMID
Barry uses an ominous pyramid to dampen Elena’s will and knock her out. The image of the pyramid of course brings to mind the idea of the Masonic pyramid, or Egyptian influence on many other secret societies. I don’t have anything solid about this, but I think it’s the basic idea that people can be controlled by future-tech, especially if it’s informed by any kind of “sacred geometry” that points toward higher intelligence. Is it hard to imagine someone turning up the dial on a machine causing people to go into a frenzy after the last Presidential election in America? Discourse is no longer occurring on a rational level, as those parts of the brain have been dampened by our theoretical machine. The debate now occurs in angry, emotional circles where neither side can even sense the inherent humanity of the other side.
THE MOTHER LODE
I almost forgot! Keep in mind that Elena was submerged into the same hallucinogenic goop and travelled through the abyss just like Barry, but she did it as a child! Sometimes the very things that we think create villains, like traumatic events, can also bring out the best in us. Being stripped of pretense doesn’t make a person into anything, it only reveals what is already there… the truth hiding beyond the black rainbow!
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Panos Cosmatos is working on another film, MANDY, which also takes place in 1983 and is a spiritual “sequel” or companion to Beyond the Black Rainbow. It will feature the internet’s favorite freak-out king, Nicholas Cage, star of David Lynch’s Wild at Heart!
Meanwhile Kyle B. Stiff is continuing work on VOIVOD, his epic historical fiction series about the life of Vlad the Impaler, also known as Dracula!