Writer/Director: Shane Carruth
Starring: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins
You know those indie movies that you can tell right away that they are very artistic and have a certain style to them. You can tell the director has a very specific vision for the film, but you may be unsure of what that is. That is Upstream Color, the latest from writer/director Shane Carruth who last intrigued audiences with 2004’s Primer. You will know after ten minutes if you will enjoy Upstream Color or not.
Kris (Seimetz) is tasered and drugged one evening after a late night at work. The kidnapper, known as The Thief (Martins), claims his head has the same element as the sun, so she can cannot directly look at him when she comes to. He puts her through these trials and tests keeping her in an alternate state of mind similar to hypnosis as she performs any task he commands her to do. Paranoia takes over and she realizes she has been invaded by some sort of worm as she sees it crawling around inside of her. She tries cutting it out on various parts of her body but is unsuccessful. A mysterious man, known as The Sampler (Sensenig), lures her to a remote area where she becomes the subject of a dangerous operation where he transfers the worm in Kris’ body to a pig. The pig is tagged with her name and info after the procedure is over. After the transfusion, Kris is back to her normal state of mind without any real knowledge of what happened to her. I am sure I have won over all of my readers by this description.
A year passes by and Kris meets Jeff (Carruth) on a train. We get the impression there is a connection between them, but we do not know what it is and what their exact relationship happens to be. Their continual run-ins lead to a passionate night and an eventual romance as they try to figure out what happened to them. Their individual memories, feelings, and emotions all seem to co-mingle and shift between each other as they desperately try to sort it all out and seek revenge on who did this to them.
The film is obscure, abstract, mysterious, and everything in between as you try to put the pieces together. Some may even call it pretentious. I typically find these film intriguing. If you are like me who tries to figure everything out, it may be hard to just shut your mind off and soak it all in. You will undoubtedly get fed up and disgruntled if you try to make sense out of everything Shane Carruth is throwing out you. Parasitic worms, pigs, special magical water, muted dialogue, mysterious characters, visual imagery, and metaphors are just some of the many items Carruth plays with to tell this story. It should also be noted that Henry David Thoreau's novel “Walden” plays a factor into it. Maybe if I had read "Walden" I would be able to connect all of those dots. Was does that say about a filmmaker if their work does not always speak for itself and instead you need another work to help interpret it? Maybe it is time I read this piece of classic literature as I feel like I have run into it numerous times this past year.
I could not help but think that Carruth seems to be inspired by Terrence Malick. Even my husband came in toward the end and said “This looks like The Tree of Life”. There are many moments and full scenes that are dialogue free but are led by the actions of the characters and the musical score behind it. Like some Malick films, there is a patience that is needed and a willingness to go along on this interesting ride where you have no idea where it is going. Upstream Color will not appeal to everyone, which is perfectly fine. Not everything is explained or laid out in front of you, but I was perplexed enough to want to give it another viewing.
RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)