Review: 'Upstream Color' a bold, artful challenge
Shane Carruth made his name in the independent film world in 2004 with his debut, “Primer,” a sci-fi, time-travel thriller that he wrote, directed, produced, edited, scored and starred in for a paltry sum of $7,000. Critics loved it. Very few others actually saw it.
Nine years later, he's back with his much-anticipated follow-up, “Upstream Color,” which is just as daring and original at the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum. This is a capital-A art-house movie, definitely not for everyone. Carruth throws you in the deep end at the start and challenges you until the end. His mesmerizing use of imagery — of textures and sounds, of crisp lighting and radiant natural beauty — has a haunting, lyrical quality reminiscent of Terrence Malick. Earth churns, grass crunches, leaves snap. A hand softly caresses a bedsheet; hard, loud rain falls on a parking lot. But he also injects some moments that are so horrific and squirm-inducing, they're downright Cronenbergian.
Although its title suggests a sense of direction, “Upstream Color” defiantly eschews a traditionally linear narrative format; it moves ahead in time but in an elliptical, hypnotic way. And Carruth's rhythmic style of editing draws you in and keeps you hooked even when it may not be entirely clear what you're watching. He's technically meticulous but the results are dreamlike.
Which brings us to the matter of describing what “Upstream Color” is about.
Kris (Amy Seimetz, showing bravery and great range) and Jeff (Carruth himself, quick-witted and impulsive) find themselves strangely intrigued by each other while riding the same commuter train every morning. They don't realize it for a while, but they both have been subjected to scientific experimentation that has damaged their lives, finances and careers, the details of which come back in fleeting wisps of memory.
And so as each struggles to re-establish a feeling of identity and security individually, they dare try to forge something meaningful and lasting with each other. The traditionally romantic, getting-to-know-you elements of the film are the most conventional, but even within them it's clear that both of these people are still a little fragile and off-kilter.
“Upstream Color” also features, not necessarily in this order: grub worms, financial fraud, blue orchids, long night swims and Henry David Thoreau's “Walden.” These are crucial pieces within a puzzle that may be impossible to solve, and Carruth's synth-heavy score magnifies the sensation of danger and dread.
Carruth's film ends on an unexpectedly optimistic note, given all that's come before it. What it means exactly will be open for interpretation just like everything else. But the artistry on display is indisputable, and thrilling.
Christy Lemire reviews movie for the Associated Press.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.