Upstream Color

April 7th, 2013


Upstream Color

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A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.

Release Year: 2013

Rating: 6.9/10 (255 voted)

Director: Shane Carruth

A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.


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User Review

World Premiere (mild spoilers)


The last paragraph will contain mild spoilers; this is a film you don't want to know anything about before going in so I still recommend skipping it. But I offer it as a jumping point into understanding this film, as I'm sure many will be upset and wonder about that.

I attended the world premiere of Upstream Color at Sundance 2013 along with a Q&A from writer, director, actor etc. Shane Currath. I am a big fan of Primer and I also appreciate esoteric/enigmatic and visual works. Upstream Color definitely can be described with those words. I think Primer is complex and intelligent/intellectual yet can be enjoyed by a broad audience. Upstream Color is easy to understand on a literal, plot level but the themes and allegory are a little harder to understand (I don't claim to fully understand it yet). Needless to say, it's not one that the majority of movie-goers will appreciate.

Aesthetically, it is a beautiful film full of poetic-imagery. It is very visual not unlike the work of Terrence Malick. Our protagonists are exceptionally acted, especially Amy Seimetz as Kris, she is captivating as is the film itself. I'm not going to talk about the plot but keep in mind that it is an allegory. I can't say whether or not I 'enjoyed' this film, but while watching it, it had my fullest attention and it has consumed my thoughts since trying to make sense of it. I wonder if it could have been more effective if it had been clearer. To the movies credit, the last third has no dialogue but none is needed, the film has established an emotional and visual language that the audience fully understands and embraces. This film could be genius; it could just be a lot of pomp with a compelling façade. The film had some real moments of emotional resonance yet at the end I felt hollow and unsatisfied. I probably will revisit this film to understand it and my response better.

The Q&A was interesting, Shane Currath didn't inspire confidence that he had a singular vision and intent for this film (from his answers it sounded like he had some loose ideas and put it on screen). The film prominently features Walden, I thought it may tie in thematically but he stated that when he read Walden it seemed like something you would make someone read as torture – and in the film, it is used loosely as such. It may be ironic or purposeful that this film may be a Walden-esque torture as well for some in its transcendental/opaque nature. He also stated that this movie is about tearing people down and their having to build their own narratives. They also may not understand that there are outside forces affecting them, yet they can feel it on some level. That's probably the most-helpful advice in understanding the film.

(mild thematic and plot detail spoilers follow): Keeping those last two statements in mind, at one point 'The Thief' tries to sell drugs to individuals with a worm inside of it that hypnotizes them, let's take that both literally and figuratively as in he is a drug dealer who is trying to get people addicted to drugs which control them and make them do mindless things whilst high and financially bankrupt them. The worm can be viewed as the addiction itself. These people then hit rock-bottom and once they recover they aren't the same people anymore. There were external forces working on them that they weren't/aren't aware of but now they have to build a personal narrative of how to deal with the consequences of their addiction. The part I haven't figured out yet is The Sampler and the pigs but I'm sure the answer is there somewhere, hopefully the previous interpretation I gave is somewhat accurate and helpful.


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