Thursday, June 13, 2013

Upstream Color

UPSTREAM COLOR (Shane Carruth, 2013)

Fundamentally UPSTREAM COLOR relates to the indescribable attraction that brings two people together and the wounds and common ground in their history, but storywise it’s a whole lot more complicated and bizarre than that. A man referred to as The Thief (Thiago Martins) harvests a worm that he puts in a capsule and forcibly gives to Kris (Amy Seimetz). He uses the worm to control her mind and takes her for all she’s worth. After he’s done with her, a man called The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) comes along to remove the worm and implant it in a pig.  A post-procedure Kris discovers her life in ruins but eventually finds and is drawn to Jeff (Shane Carruth), who may have endured a similar situation.

Although the surrealist and naturalistic influences place UPSTREAM COLOR at the intersection of David Lynch and Terrence Malick, Carruth’s weird poetry of sound and images belongs to his distinct vision. The plot particulars are often indirect and opaque, yet the film is never less than mesmerizing or comprehensible because of its impeccable sculpture. By crosscutting sonic tones and matching visuals, Carruth points out the connections surrounding and linking us regardless of if they are perceived or not. Whether the chains come in the form of looped paper, crocheted yarn, human relationships, or the natural cycle, UPSTREAM COLOR functions like a microscope through which these bonds are acknowledged and examined.

Cracking the narrative code was a great source of gratification in PRIMER, Carruth’s previous brain-busting film, but to get twisted up in what UPSTREAM COLOR means is to miss its deeper pleasures. Here the complexity and strangeness work toward conjuring the ineffable to elicit emotional responses. For such an abstract film, it offers a tactile viewing experience. It’s about texture rather than text, and the sound design, ambient score, and cinematography enhance the senses to lead to an instinctual understanding of UPSTREAM COLOR’s essence.

This description likely makes UPSTREAM COLOR sound like a cold, intellectual, and impenetrable exercise, which couldn’t be farther from the experience of it. This film is felt more than comprehended. The odd and disorienting science fiction surfaces allow for the emotional undercurrents to break through more easily. Seimetz’s remarkable physical performance contains the pain and anger that come with injury, the wariness of trusting anew, and the ecstasy of love. An entire inner life is made familiar through her.

With UPSTREAM COLOR Carruth employs a novel and thrilling strategy for studying the inexplicable bonds that pull and hold people together, the shared joys and concerns that transform us as individuals and couples, and the past hurts that need to be absorbed into our identities rather than removed or disregarded.

Grade: A

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