Synopsis: A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. (Source)
Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color isn’t the type of film you watch just once and put away forever. In fact, it isn’t something you can watch just once in general. Like the best art, it’s challenging, complex and akin to some sort of evolving enigma; the more you think you’ve figured it out, the more there is to discover. Because of this, the film is best viewed as the seed of an idea or thought, rather than the definitive answer to a question. Exploring the ties that bind us on a biological and spiritual level, the film is an admirable rumination into the intricate economics of nature and the bold experiment of a filmmaker searching for a new type of narrative vocabulary.
The story begins with a group of teens who have found some sort of psychotropic, mind-controlling drug. Soon enough, they sell it to a character known only as The Thief, who then uses it on an unsuspecting woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz in a fierce performance) to steal her entire life savings. With her life in ruins, she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth) and the two share an undefined yet unavoidable connection. While the pair initially don’t know how to handle their attraction towards each other, they soon turn to a romantic solution — until they make a much stranger and more mysterious discovery. Along the way there are plenty of mind-altering maggots, a pig farmer (Andrew Sensenig) who samples the audible equivalent of different victims’ traumas, pigs who seem emotionally bonded via shared parasites and much more, bizarre delights.
Like his previous film Primer, Carruth again shows off his gift for powerful metaphor and high concept science fiction through ordinary and mundane circumstances, making us rethink the tiny details of our lives which we take for granted. Part biological thriller, love story and statement on both the best and worst attributes of human nature, the film makes no attempt to deliver what messages it may have in any sort of easily digestible fashion. But that’s also what makes it so special, culminating in a story in which it’s individual parts may just be more important than the open-ended whole which they seem to create. Love, loss, guilt, destiny and identity are things are things that we’ll never understand logically, but things we can all relate to emotionally; and that’s exactly the bridge the film attempts to create with it’s viewers. No small feat by any means, but if there’s one person up to the challenge, it’s Carruth, who executes the entire thing with plenty of style and haunting ambition. Utilizing stunning and vivid cinematography to poetic lyrical effect, the film parallel pigs, humans and maggots (among other things) into an endless cycle, presenting a story about taking control of our personal situations to break out of conceived limitations. If that sounds pretty dense, it is, and that’s just scratching the surface.
If anything, what this film does prove is the undeniable power a story can have on it’s audience, with each person finding their own meaning and interpretation. Beautifully constructed on every level by Carruth who wrote, acted, directed, edited and even composed the music for the film, Upstream Color is an intelligent and stupefying piece of work. Creating a world full of opposites, whether it’s beauty in frailty or confusion in pleasure, Carruth has not only found a way to present the intangible devices that shape our lives and choices but also showcases the medium of film as a living, evocative vessel of possibilities. Those looking for light entertainment, can pass on by, but those up to a challenge will be richly rewarded. Even after just two features, Carruth has established himself as a true auteur, brave and defiant on an impossible search for the unattainable.
Crome Rating: 4.5/5
Buy the film directly from Shane Carruth at ERBP Film.