Never before has the cover of Henry David Thoreau's masterwork 'Walden' appeared so frequently in a movie. Not only has the film's lead character memorized it: Shane Carruth, credited as the writer, director, actor, producer, distributor and music man of 'Upstream Color' appears to be reinterpreting Thoreau through his experimental movie. Not that the author would recognize 'Upstream Color' as a postmodern version of his meditation, but Thoreau believed that by going into the woods for a while, living at least a mile from his nearest neighbor, he would detox, he would live 'deliberately,' he would try to discover his real identity as opposed to the identity thrust upon him by the 'civilized' environment.
REVIEW, UPSTREAM COLOR erbp
Reviewed for Arizona Reporter by Harvey Karten.
Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com
Shane Carruth, whose previous entry "Primer" deals with the manipulation of the space-time continuum, continues on the path of originality, and if there's one thing we need now in a world of cinematic genres it's novelty. This is not to say that "Upsteam Color" is for a general audience since that general audience is quite comfortable with repetitions of car chases and explosions or, if leaning toward romance, would be disappointed if man chases woman, woman rejects man, man and woman get together were not guaranteed.
Still, the movie is a romance, albeit not one that you could find in a Harlequin paperback. To impose a narrative on "Upstream Color" would be reductive since the movie is more interested in poetry, meditations, spirituality and an implied wish to get the audience to plunk down money to see it a second time in an attempt to capture the elusive narrative.
In the story Kris (Amy Seimetz) is attacked by a thief (Thiago Martins), who forces her to swallow a worm. She loses much of her memory and is brainwashed into emptying her bank account, but that's only the initial injury. As the worm reproduces within her body, she is picked up by a pig farmer, Sampler (Andrew Sensenig), who slaps an oxygen mask on her face and transfers the essence of a pig onto her. She meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), a soul-mate, i.e. someone who has had the same brutal experiment done to him. They get together, engaging in strange dialogues that in real life would have caused them to take leave of each other in a half hour. But given the similarity of their fates, they use each other to try to find some meaning to their disordered lives.
Carruth fills the screen with shots, each edited to last no more than a few seconds. He shows us inexplicable fragments such as the pig farmer's hi fi equipment that he uses to record pig sounds and also points to women harvesting orchids. His aim may be (just a guess) to disorient us in the audience in their theater seats to give us an approximation of the disorientation taking place in the lives of the two principals.
In portraying personalities exhibiting emotions from A to H, particularly those of Kris who in just one scene is giggling, another in which she revels in her knowledge of Walden, yet evokes a poker-face as her basic apperance, Carruth has evokes for us a fine performance from Amy Seimetz and a puzzler that suggests that perhaps it's futile to put a narrative spin on any of this. The film won an award for sound design at the 2013 Sundance Festival, which may be damning the pic with faint praise. As for seeing the film again for a better understanding...I'll take a raincheck.
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