This review was originally published on January 28, 2013…
What is it?
What is it?
What is it?” – “Epic” by Faith No More
I’m not a lazy writer, I swear. But I’m almost going to have to plead the fifth in this review of Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color.” I loved the film and it’s grown on me exponentially since first seeing it, but I cannot tell you why I love it. Perhaps it’s the bold vision Carruth has to make a film that follows an almost subliminal structure that is clearly there yet nowhere to be found. Maybe it’s because I found myself questioning all I know about cinema yet also thinking the film might just be pretentious bullshit. The filmmaking on display is so assured and conscious yet so unlike anything I’ve ever seen, I have trouble believing Carruth can be this masterful with only two films to his credit. On and on my mind goes, where it stops, nobody knows. I guess the fact that I’m still wrestling with these issues a few days removed from seeing the film makes my esteem of it grow and grow but, again, I’m not even sure what I’m thinking about when I think about the film anymore.
If I was going to explain the plot, I’d say the film is about a woman named Kris (Seimetz) who is kidnapped and has a mind-altering bug placed inside of her that makes her almost like a puppet or zombie, bending to the will of her captor. After being stripped of her possessions, the man (Martins) who implanted the bug (named simply “Thief”) then takes leave of his victim, leaving an almost empty husk of a person who is now broke, jobless and confused. Soon she meets Jeff (Carruth) and it’s as if the two have known each other all their lives yet they know nothing of one another.
While it’s never spelled out, we “get” that Jeff has been similarly “raped” and feels a connection to Kris. Almost instantly inseparable, the two begin a life together (or continue one?) that includes an almost nonsensical repeating of patterns other characters in the movie have performed. While I know I picked up on nuances as to what the hell is going on, how these nuances were received by me remains a mystery as nothing in “Upstream Color” gives you a surefire answer to what is happening. Confused yet? Good, you should be. And I didn’t even mention the adorable baby pigs or the constant references to Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.”
“Upstream Color” is one hell of a film. Or, one hell of an anti-film. There’s just no other way to put it as I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I’ve yet to hear one single understanding or reasoning of the film I could flat out say “no, it’s definitely not that” nor have I heard an interpretation of “what it all means” that totally works. I also cannot get a firm grip on if Carruth is actually trying to say something or if he’s doing an almost impressionistic sci-fi movie that really has no meaning aside from whatever the viewer puts upon it. “Upstream Color” is a mesmerizing, frustrating, strange film that might be more of a human experience than a cinematic one. Then again, ask me tomorrow how I feel and I may have changed my mind.