Posted by: markfender | April 16, 2014

Upstream Color

I talked about indie films. Here’s another.

upstream colorUpstream Color is pretty much the definition of an indie film. It was independently produced, written, edited, directed, and starring Shane Carruth. Carruth is known for his previous film, Primer. Primer gets a lot of love for being a ‘proper’ time travel movie with scientific rigor. I don’t know. I can’t follow that movie. Even staring at the charts that map out the plot on the internet doesn’t elucidate that movie for me. I apparently just don’t get time travel.

Upstream Color is not that, however. It’s a much more of a ‘mood’ piece than Primer. Carruth has grown as a filmmaker and achieves some beautiful visuals. The plot, however, is pretty incomprehensible. There are narrative threads to follow, of course, but they don’t explain themselves and the message of the film is very strange. In short, it is about two people who find each other after a traumatic incident that they themselves don’t understand (The audience gets a greater glimpse of what happened to them than they do). It involves worms, pigs, mind control, non-elective surgery, rebuilding a life, found music, and Walden. It’s pretty telling that Carruth had to explain his film to audiences after they saw it.

Part of that comes from the script itself. No one ever seems to have a conversation in this movie. They just have concurrent soliloquies. Carruth’s character and Seimitz’s character talk past each other a whole lot in this film. One particular scene, in which they confuse their childhood memories for the others’, particularly annoyed me in the manner that they were discussing it. It fell too much into typical sitcom plot no. 1: Dude hides information from long-suffering wife, which causes more and more elaborate comedic situations until the truth is finally revealed. (Like, how are sitcom couples still married? Since they spend most of their time lying to each other?). If Carruth and Seimitz would sit down and have a normal conversation with each other, they might reach some conclusions. Instead, we get snippets of ongoing conversations where one is frustrated by another due to limited information.

That being said, I really like this movie. Even knowing Carruth’s explanation doesn’t remove the sense of wonder I felt from slowly discovering this film as it unspooled in front of me. The opening thirty minutes or so are disturbing, scary, and upsetting – never has mind control been expressed with such innocuous menace. The evolving connections formed from the disparate (even non-human) characters kept me interested. Amy Seimitz is startlingly good in this film, achieving a range of terror, unknown loss, and vulnerability. And Carruth has a whole visual language involving how he films hands. It might be my favorite film from last year. It has certainly kept me thinking. It’s streaming on Netflix so set aside two hours and watch something truly strange. You will probably emerge from the experience having felt something, even if that feeling is indescribable.

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