Film Review: Upstream Color

Written and Directed by Shane Carruth

Starring Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig

This is Shane Carruth’s second film in a decade. The first PRIMER is enigmatic but perhaps less so than UPSTEAM COLOR. Both are enjoyable if you can let go of your need to understand it and to see a steady progression in the narrative that allows you into Carruth’s world. Nothing in the film is really nonsensical once examined, but the general theme or even genre of UPSTREAM COLOR remains elusive even days later.

The film begins with slugs being removed from rare orchids and inserted into pills. Or something like that happens. Kris (Seimetz), a girl in her twenties, is abducted, forced to swallow these pills along with gallons of water (perhaps hallucinogenic), and her mind and memories seem tampered with. Some sort of surgical procedure takes place as well.

She is finally released from this ordeal and meets Jeff (Carruth) on a train. Both have recently lost their jobs for various reasons. As their relationship deepens each has trouble separating individual memories and psyches from the other. Another thread of the narrative concerns a man (Sensenig) who is collecting various sounds on a recorder and seems to have a pig farm. Pigs play a large part in the movie and have never looked less charming.

Toward the end, there is also a group of people who seem to have undergone a similar experience.

So we have here a love story, a science fiction movie, a statement on our impotence when greater forces come down on us, the fragility of memory and identity, and a story of the ability of the larger group to do good. And maybe some other things I am missing or forgetting.

Ten years ago, I would have detested this film and seen it as pretentious. But I think we have all learned to tolerate fractured, non-linear narratives by now. I enjoyed it and recommend it. Just let go and you will enjoy it too.