In these days of extreme tribalism and conflict, there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on. Yes, everyone agrees that we are surrounded by a broken system, that things have gone terribly wrong, and all too often, our first instinct is to seek out a scapegoat upon whom we can unload our anger and frustration. Director Christina Kallas delivers a meditation upon this human tendency in her second feature film, The Rainbow Experiment. Concocting what could be seen as a microcosm for the larger issues of the day, the film’s story is simple. A high school student is seriously disfigured and put into a coma by a science class experiment gone bad. What follows is a frenetically-paced examination of the aftermath, which consists largely of playing the blame game. Was it the teacher’s fault? The school’s? Or perhaps no ones at all? None of that really matters as what unfolds is the visceral need to make somebody, anybody paid for what has happened. Caught in that crossfire are well-meaning folks, distraught parents, defensive unions, deflecting administrators and traumatized teenagers, all seeking a relief valve which just might end up exploding in their own faces.
Filmed in a mix of traditional narrative and more freestyle documentary-like scenes, the whole film’s fourth wall is broken by the victim of the accident himself, a boy names Matty. Speaking to the audience as half-narrator/half-commentator, all ostensibly occurring as an out-of-body experience happening from his unconscious state in the ICU ward, viewers are offered an additional layer of experience which is more philosophical than metaphysical. Much of the editing is edgy and dizzying, recalling scenes from other films depicting a plane crash. Which really is the point. The social unraveling which occurs throughout the progression of the story is really a slow-motion calamity which sends each of the characters hurling in different directions, as if none of the passengers on a distressed jet were wearing their seatbelts. The only one acting with unbiased calm, of course, is Matty. After all, his semi-omniscient state allows for a presence of mind afforded by one advantage he has over the rest of the players: he’s more assured of his own fate.
Without getting into any spoilers, when the conclusion finally does arrive – like the moment the proverbial flying machine hits the ground – the consequences are less expected than one might think. But that’s the nature of chaos. Human beings are so obsessed with seeking absolute truths, they can’t accept that sometimes, stuff just happens. All our feelings of justice, injustice, revenge, and responsibility are often the exact opposite of what we think they are. Kallas orchestrates a large ensemble cast to make her point. Like so many pinballs bouncing around a machine on full tilt, the sheer energy that the tragedy unleashes makes the trajectories of all involved impossible to chart. It’s of great credit to Kallas that she successfully tracks all those moving parts in such a way which would probably be not too far off from what a similar real-life catastrophe would unravel like in the real world.