I don’t even know where to start the conversation about Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. It’s Carruth’s second film as a director, nine years after his debut with 2004’s Primer. The impression of that film has been a lasting one, even if most of us have no idea what was going on. Upstream Color is a different kind of confusing beast. It may be one of the most difficult films to review because there is so much to say, but how do you say it? It’s a movie that you could completely spoil, but still not give anything away. There’s no definitive answer to any of the questions it will leave you with. I would imagine you can watch it multiple times and take away new things each and every time.
Carruth tells much of the story by weaving montages in with a direct narrative. The main story revolves around two people, Kris (Amy Seimetz) and Jeff (Shane Carruth). Their lives have been turned upside down after they ingested a parasite, and become brainwashed by a mysterious character named The Thief. The next person we meet is called The Sampler, who we see raising pigs and experimenting with different sounds. He does some sort of unorthodox transplant of the parasite from Kris to a pig. With this, through the pigs, he’s able to monitor the lives of the individuals who shared said parasite with the pigs. If that sounds confusing, it really is.
Upstream Color is as much a love story as it is a thriller, or vice versa. Both of the main characters find themselves unravelling slowly. It seems as though the closer they get to one another, the closer their connection to what has happened to them strengthens. I won’t get into theories about what the film means in this review, but I would say the biggest theme is “connection”. It plays a lot like a ballet. It’s graceful, beautiful, powerful, but it can be quiet and ugly at times. Some things are moving in different directions, but it’s all for the same purpose. It’s abstract, but I’m assuming science may be a contributor. Shane Carruth found a way to make art, but also be smart and very calculated about every detail, although some of it is surreal.
Upstream Color is a thought provoking film that will leave a lasting impression (good or bad). I also can’t get away without mentioning that it has an amazing score that is just as stimulating as many of the images.
The Good: Carruth makes a great follow-up film. The acting. The story. The images. Overall, I would recommend it to anyone with an open mind and a love of film. One of the best films I’ve seen this year.
The Bad: You can’t stop thinking about it after it’s over. There are endless possibilities to what the film could “mean”, and it could really turn you against the film. You also have to be patient with it, and I don’t think it’s for everyone. Sorry Grandma.
The Ugly: If even one iota of what happens to these character in the film is truly a possibility, it’s absolutely terrifying. Parasites. The fact that I can’t recommend it to everyone.