Upstream Color (2013) Shane Carruth [1:36]
I enjoy films that make me think, but at times I run across one that straddles the fence between films that requires me to think outside my comfort zone and those that simply frustrate me to no end. I’m not sure exactly where Upstream Color falls along that graph, but I would certainly watch it again (surely a good sign).
Jeffrey Kauffman at Blu-ray.com calls Upstream Color a sort of “Tree of Life on drugs.” While I understand what he means (director Carruth does channel Terrence Malick’s visual and narrative style in many ways), Kauffman’s label doesn’t really do justice to Carruth’s film.
The film opens with a young woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) who is accosted, then attacked early on. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but Kris is being forced via a mind-controlling drug to hand over all her assets to her attacker. All of this is done in a very clever, fascinating way that’s amazingly unique and quite disturbing. (You wonder if this could happen or has, in fact, ever happened....)
What happens next just gets more and more bizarre, but not overwhelming. Carruth keeps you asking “What just happened?” as Kris begins a slow recovery, yet adds layers of weirdness in other characters and situations as the film progresses. New characters are introduced who may or may not have had something to do with Kris’ attack. One of these people is Jeff (played by Carruth), a man Kris meets on a train. Jeff is clearly interested in Kris, but she (and we) wonder about his motives, especially when their initial conversations are sparse, filled with gaps that could mean nearly anything without proper elaboration.
Pieces of the mystery of Kris’ attack slowly begin to take shape, but other questions arise. When Carruth (the director, not the actor) answers one question, he asks two or three more. Like the drug Kris is forced to ingest early in the film, Upstream Color carries a hallucinogenic quality that draws you in, yet makes it difficult to come away with an awful lot of clarity, at least after only one viewing. I’m not really sure why, but this aspect of Carruth’s earlier film Primer frustrated me. Here, with Upstream Color (a better film), the same aspect fascinates me. It’s too easy to say that Upstream Color is just another case of style over meaning. I think there’s more to it than that.
I just haven’t figured out what it is yet....