Much like Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong, which I saw earlier this year; Upstream Color is another one of those movies that I saw a while ago, but have failed to comment on it sooner because I was having trouble coming up with worthwhile things to say about it. Not because I didn’t *want* to talk about it, but merely because I wasn’t sure if what I was thinking in my head even corresponded correctly with anything I actually saw in the movie. The themes, the story, the metaphorical interpretation, the sensory explosions… yeah, I guess I’m saying this movie is kinda sorta a little confusing.
My best attempt to give a broad retelling of the plot: A woman gets abducted and brainwashed and basically has her normal life somewhat ruined for no apparent reason, and she remembers nothing about it. Then she connects with a guy who also had the same abduction happen to him, and they struggle to cope with their lives… but, uh, while together. Or something. Also, add a lot of pigs. There’s like 50 pigs in this movie.
I guess it’s worth noting that the director of this film (Shane Carruth) also directed Primer. I remember watching Primer in college, but remember almost nothing specific about it. It was about two guys discussing the overcomplicated consequences of time travel in an abandoned office building or something, right? The thing I remember most specifically about it was that it was made for $7000. Primer didn’t really do it for me, to be honest. I liked its spirit and low-key ambitions, but sad as it is to say, it went over my head big time. Or at least it went over 20-year-old Scott’s head, and I haven’t watched it since… Maybe I should give it another viewing? Regardless, I wasn’t all that surprised when I found out the Upstream Color guy was also the Primer guy.
Yet, I think the nearly unexplainable nature of the plot is Upstream Color’s best asset while you’re watching it. The mystery of it all was the best part. I really, truly did think that they were actually taking me somewhere every step of the way. And in the end, I guess I didn’t quite feel like I was cheated out of a functional story, because I think Carruth did give me all the puzzle pieces; but it’s just one of those super detailed photo mosaic puzzles with 5000 pieces and no distinguishable edges. So I’m not quite done putting it together yet…
I think the best compliment I could give Upstream Color is that despite it being a movie that really makes you think hard about what you’re looking at, it was still very entertaining. I can’t say the same for the The Tree of Life. In the scope of entertainingly confusing movies; I’d rank Upstream Color somewhere ahead of The Fountain, but behind Mulholland Drive.
On my first go around with this film, the theme that jumped out at me right away was basically about two people coping with loss, and the struggles of being able to connect with other people after each person’s different form of loss. Maybe that took away from the film a little bit for me, because I’ve already seen the “two damaged people connecting” love angle played out (better) in many other films. But then there’s the whole sci-fi aspect to it, which takes up the first act of the movie, and there is some sort of god character who keeps an ever-present stare over the characters throughout the second and third acts. To push those aside for my loss theme doesn’t seem entirely correct. Carruth himself has said that the film is about identity control, and whether we are in control of ourselves. Another critic has said it’s more about interconnectedness. So, yeah, this film is DEEP. It can go a lot of ways, depending on who you are. Maybe it’s just a really bizarre adaptation of Charlotte’s Web? I don’t know.
Shane Carruth is the kind of guy I don’t think I could have a conversation with for more than 20 seconds before I start bumbling my words and looking really stupid. Even if it’s about something I’m familiar with, like Wendy’s sandwiches. “So Shane, I definitely prefer the Spicy Chicken sandwich over the 1/2 Pound Double with cheese, it just has a more-” “Yeah, look, the Spicy sandwich is an intriguing source of sensory bliss that triggers the very neurons in your brain that make you want to THINK that you are actually enjoying yourself, but realistically, the duality of the two patties in the 1/2 Pound Double create more of a spacial awareness in your mouth that sends signals throughout your whole body indicating that maybe you aren’t really who you think you are, but you’re more so who you think *the sandwich* thinks you are. Sort of a reversal of natural order, to put it in layman’s terms.” “I, uhhhh, well… UHHH. But this has… the be-chicken of the fffla-uhhhh… hmmmm. Yeah… you’re probably right.”
But one thing I CAN criticize Carruth for is his acting. Ha! In your face! He could probably use an acting class or two. He wasn’t terrible or anything, but I don’t think he really brought anything amazing to the role. I guess he makes up for it with the breathtaking cinematography and insanely good sound design… Both of which he had major hands in achieving (we was writer, director, editor, cinematographer, music creator, and probably like 15 other things). Damn! I try to bring him down, and he just has me complimenting him more! CARRUTH!
I would recommend this movie to people if they’re looking for something to think about for several days. I wouldn’t recommend it to people who like to have answers handed to them on a silver platter. I normally don’t like films that *require* interpretation to be successful, but this is a case of a film being good enough to not let that ruin the experience. Upstream Color is ultimately a movie that could probably use a hug, but I’m not so sure I’d want to go over and actually give it one. But I’d certainly stare at it observantly through a little glass window in the padded room it’s bouncing around in.
7.5 out of 10