Upstream Color


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Upstream Color
"The subject of understanding and mystery prove a sticking point, with the film remaining so wilfully opaque that it is more frustrating than rewarding by the end credits."

Upstream Color has been one of the hottest tickets in town this Sundance but narratively it is an uphill struggle for all but the most cryptically minded. Shane Carruth's follow-up to Primer is an existential rumination involving maggots, pigs, orchids and Walden.

You'll have to colour in the story yourself - and I'd use pencils if I were you, in case you change your mind. But as Carruth would no doubt tell you, life is all about cycles and change.

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Right now, I'm choosing to drape my reading of the film in theology, with its godlike omniscient figure, his satanic opposite and an unlikely saviour - but that's right now, don't ask me tomorrow.

Plot is a term that slides off the surface of Carruth's film but at it's most basic we meet Kris (Amy Seimetz) as she is attacked by a man (Thiago Martins), referred to in the film's credits as Thief. Forced to swallow a maggot, she finds her life becomes a living hell of brainwashing, involving repetitious tasks and actions that cause her lose just about everything. Intervention by a second man, referred to in the credits as the Sampler (Andrew Sensenig), sees him use pigs and sound to help her out of the Cronenberg-style body horror sequence she has found herself in. In the second half of the film, we watch her try to regain a sense of self and purpose, helped along in her task by Jeff (Carruth), who appears to have been through the same wringer as she has.

Dialogue flows over itself, as the couple find their memories are mingling - who originally had an experience becomes less important than forging on together. All the while, mysterious incidents continue, including scenes of a mother and daughter on an orchid hunt and Kris undertaking an apparently Sisyphean task in a swimming pool to the reading of Thoreau's Walden.

Upstream Color proves gripping initially and is never less than beautiful and beautifully scored, each brief scene joining the next in stream of consciousness that compels you to watch even if you can't understand. The subject of understanding and mystery prove a sticking point, however, with the film remaining so wilfully opaque that it is more frustrating than rewarding by the end credits. A director such as David Lynch would throw the viewer a genre story that they could enjoy for its surface value even as they dig for the deep suff, but Carruth isn't interested in giving us an inroad. There's a suspicion that, even on multiple viewings, the film could well remain stubbornly unpenetrable and despite Carruth's bravery and mastery of craft, I'm not sure that I'm willing to join in that particular cycle of repetition.

Reviewed on: 25 Jan 2013
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Upstream Color packshot
A man and woman are drawn together as they try to reassemble their wrecked lives.
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Director: Shane Carruth

Writer: Shane Carruth

Starring: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins

Year: 2013

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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