Upstream Color (2013)

16 05 2013

I feel it’s not a bad place to start by mentioning that I was no great fan of Shane Carruth’s debut Primer. While an impressive accomplishment considering the circumstances under which it was made and the density of the narrative, it’s ultimately too scientific of an experience. This is because it’s a science-fiction film, as is this one, but instead because it is far too concerned with the details of its own narrative. Upstream Color is a better film, almost inherently so, because it is actually interested in what is going on with human being. Still, Carruth’s fascination with exploring the details of his science is a presence, which is a shame considering that there’s a much better film underneath that. Thankfully, his talent manages to shine through, perhaps in spite of his true motivations.


Kris is kidnapped, drugged, and conned out of her own money by a mysterious man who seems to control her mind. When she regains her independence, she finds her life in complete shambles, the lone bright spot being that she’s drawn to Jeff, who may or may not have gone through the same experience. Within this love story, the narrative weaves between that of the individual who controlled both of them, as well as a farmer interested in folly effects. Of course, he’s also connected to the story.


It sounds sort of simplistic the way I described, but I could easily see most of this film’s audience getting lost in the narrative’s complexity. The film’s discourse seems to be structured around most of these detailed proceedings. At the risk of “spoiling” the movie, the overarching theme seems to be one of questioning why things are the way they are, i.e. a call to become aware of hegemony. Kris and Jeff begin to question why they were drawn to each other, and in the process, they uncover the secret that explains how they were exploited. It’s important to mention that they are not alone, as the film concludes with the couple sending Thoreau’s Walden to the other victims, something that will bring their trauma back into consciousness.


This all sounds very heavy, but it might not understood as such in the film’s storytelling. On one hand, the content does feel heavy just by the nature of Carruth’s style (Malick’s Tree of Life was the most frequent comparison made when this first premiered) but the filmmaker manages to produce a rhythm to his images. Indeed, this takes cues from Malick’s elliptical, poetic flourishes so the film’s execution of the cumbersome narrative flows rather naturally. It helps that the film is so visually striking, even for someone like myself who feels inundated with arty posturing that includes shallow focus and lens flares, both of which are reoccurring tools in Carruth’s cinematic vocabulary. His visuals are striking even as they’re founded in these overused techniques.


There’s going to be the notion that the film survives exclusively on its atmosphere, which sounds like a criticism to some, but I would emphasize that the film is at its best when it indulges in being more visually based. It becomes something of a chore when we’re forced the details of his science-fiction. It’s hard to call it exposition since none is ever really given, the film is fairly elliptical, at times feeling like a constant montage. Still, the less interesting “mystery” narrative strand becomes the biggest point in the film’s final third, which is particularly disappointing considering there’s a wonderful love story going on right in the middle of this. The relationship doesn’t feel deep, but it is one that draws on the physical, which I don’t mean as sex exclusively. Instead, the film’s greatest quality, is the hyper-sensory experience that we get flashes of from time to time.


It doesn’t feel right to criticize a film for what it’s aspiring to be and to just enjoy it for something else, but I think the love story here lends the film its most tender and vital moments. The film’s opening, which is essentially Amy Seimetz walking around and hurting herself is captivating, if only because the actress herself is so captivating. At times, one wonders what the film would be like if the filmmakers had just stayed with her perspective as the other narratives seem a little too on the nose. The symbolism with the pigs, for instance, is sort of embarrassing. I guess in conclusion though, there is a wonderful film here, but it’s from pieces picked off what is kind of a mess. Not a intentional, beautiful mess, either. Instead a film made by a very talented person who doesn’t quite know where he should direct his focus. Here’s a hint for the future, keep the camera on your actors when they have an energy as Seimetz does here.




One response

4 08 2013
ddos vps

Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to your blog before but after looking at many of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely delighted I discovered it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back frequently!|

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