‘Upstream Color’ Movie Review
Actor/Director Shane Carruth made a name for himself back in 2004 when he released his Indie time-travel film ‘Primer.’ The movie was a low budget cult masterpiece, and is often considered to be one of the best, and most ‘plot-hole-free’ time travel films ever made. With all this promise, it was a bit odd to find that Carruth did not release another film for 9 years, until finally he returned this year with ‘Upstream Color.’ An experimental film, perhaps in a similar vein to the recent works of say, Terrence Malick, it is a bold, daring and sometimes bizarre film. However, the real question is “is it any good?”
A woman (Amy Seimetz) is drugged and hypnotized, and subsequently tricked out of all of her money. A man (Carruth) suffers a similar fate. The two of them are then drawn together somehow, and gradually the connection between their the two of them as well as the natural world around them becomes more and more blurred as they try and put their lives back together.
This is such a difficult movie to review, because the simple fact is that many people will absolutely love it and many will hate it equally as much. The thing is, I’m sure that a valid argument could be put together each way. So, in standard Movie Melt fashion, I will present you with my opinion and do my best to explain myself. It will be up to you to decided if you want to believe me or not.
The first thing I noticed about the film is that it is wonderfully shot. The opening five or ten minute segment is almost hypnotic, which is wonderful since it involves exactly that. We see a lot of bold images, strange colors and unexplained activity. As I already mentioned, it all gets a little similar to Terrence Malick in ‘Tree of Life’ but the difference here is that you don’t get that same sense of self indulgence that you often get from Malick. It all seems tasteful in a sense.
In terms of plot, things do get crazy right away, and immediately you understand that this will be no normal movie experience. If you’re going to watch this film, be prepared to pay attention, and concentrate. However, at the same time, just because you watch carefully doesn’t mean you will be able to make heads or tail of any of it.
That being said, what I really like about the film is that while there is a large portion of the film that is very bizarre and completely open to interpretation, Carrauth also sprinkles in plenty of stuff that is much clearer. Perhaps not clear in the sense of the overall plot, which always remains a bit of a mystery, but in that moment that you see on screen, you understand. The best examples of this are the scenes between our two stars, as their romance and connection blossoms. What we see are just incredibly realistic and subtle interactions between the two, and this is all very real, while the world around them that makes up the plot is far less ‘normal.’ This actually creates quite a nice contrasting experience, and also makes sure that the viewer never gets lost. Carruth uses this to keep his viewers with him on this journey, and for me, it works.
Now, there are some sections of the film that are really, really odd. The pigs. That’s all I’ll say about that in order not to spoil anything, but the pigs are a strange touch and there are a few others that are just difficult to understand. The thing is, you know that Carruth has his reasons, and if you love attempting to interpret cinema like I do, you will be ok with this. However, at the same time, it is sometimes difficult to find any real clues or answers which can be frustrating.
The acting by the few members of the cast is wonderful, in particular Amy Seimetz, who does a fantastic job as the strange, and subdued Kris. As much as I loved ‘Primer’ I remember thinking that Shane Carruth was not fantastic in terms of acting skills, but I must say that I think he was far, far better here. He does have a slightly wooden, Keanu Reeves type of thing going on, but in this particular film it works perfectly.
Well, it was a strange ride. But you know what. I loved it. Well, really, really liked it. It is bizarre at times, and requires a viewer who A) enjoys the experience as it is happening in front of them, and B) is willing to apply some brainpower, and attempt to interpret what they see for themselves. That being said, this won’t be for everyone. But Carruth presents some wonderful, poignant scenes between the two main characters which are subtle yet powerful. You really feel like you are watching two people interact, for real and it is a joy to watch. If you have an open mind, I recommend this film for sure.