Mark my words, you will spend the first half of “Upstream Color” wondering what the heck is going on. And if you’re like me, you’ll spend the second half making a series of observations or connections that may or may not exist. But all of that is okay because by the end I realized I had watched something intelligent and strikingly original. There is nothing Hollywood about this picture. It’s independent cinema in its purest form. But don’t let that fool you. This is also one of the most visually entrancing pictures to come out of 2013.
To call this Shane Carruth’s movie would be an epic understatement. Carruth serves as director, writer, editor, cinematographer, co-producer, co-star, and he composed the music. “Upstream Color” is only his second film but his first since 2004. When speaking of Carruth comparisons have been made to Terrence Malick and we see the validity of the comparisons in “Upstream Color”. His penchant for filming nature, his use of sound, the sparse dialogue, and his sweeping poetic camera feel heavily influenced by Malick’s work.
It’s impossible to put “Upstream Color” into a box and giving too much of the plot away would be stripping the film of some of its allure. It’s a very abstract movie with a haunting and hypnotic feel that permeates the entire project. And drawing in your senses is clearly one of Carruth’s main objectives. I’ll just say this, a young woman (Amy Seimetz) is drugged by a mysterious man (known only as The Thief) while at a nightclub. The drug is actually a mind-controlling parasite which The Thief exploits in order to rob her. Later she is drawn to a man (played by Carruth) who may or may not have shared a very similar experience.
There are several other mysterious elements and bits of imagery that are cleverly used to peel back the film’s meaning. But even after you’ve dissected the movie in your mind, thematic interpretation may still be a bit challenging. But that’s one of the things I appreciated about the movie. It doesn’t lay everything out all nice and neat for the audience. It engages you and challenges your perceptions of what you are seeing. Interestingly enough, that also leads to one of the movie’s only flaws. It does reach a point where it gets a bit bogged down in its artful approach. It’s a point where the connections and revelation seems to slow down and the film turns into a series of well shot but drawn out sequences.
That aside, “Upstream Color” is a treat. Shane Carruth shows an amazing eye for cinema and he creates a movie experience guaranteed to be unlike anything else you’ve seen in a while. And I haven’t even talked about Amy Seimetz. Talk about a wonderful performance. Now be forewarned, this is a movie that may not appeal to the masses and it has flown under many radars. But for me it shows the diversity of high-quality movies we saw in 2013. It’s definitely worth checking out. I loved it.