Upstream Color (2013)
Staggeringly beautiful and disconcertingly haunting right down to the microscopic level. Upstream Colour is a delicate, interwoven fabric that, much like everything in existence, has an intricate, atomic balance at its core to upkeep in order for it to flourish. If there is even a slight miscue, the film in its entirety would implode. Yet astoundingly, Upstream Colour strikes an unparalleled equilibrium between its content that ranges from severely bizarre, decidedly violent, and remorselessly disheartening. Written, directed, and produced by Shane Carruth, who follows up his first full-length feature Primer with something equally as confusing. And even though it may not be as obscure, it is certainly as innovative and brilliant. Upstream Colour is overwhelmingly melancholic for the majority, but if you can stand it, the reward is unlike anything else you’ve every felt while watching a film.
Kris (Seimetz) is abducted by the Thief (Thiago Martins) and infected with a worm, which is used to brainwash her. After the Thief successfully completes his transgressions, he hands Kris over to the Sampler (Andrew Sensenig), who transfers the worm into a pig. The transfer of this worm establishes a connection between Kris and the pig and allows the Sampler to witness the victims experiences. Essentially, each time the Sampler approaches a pig, he can see what is going on in that persons life. The Sampler uses these experiences to create music which he sells through his record company. When a pig needs to be discarded, it is tossed into a lake. The Orchid Mother (Kathy Carruth) and Orchid Daughter (Meredith Burke) collect the orchids which have been latched onto by the worm from the deceased pig. When Kris meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), the two strike up a loving relationship, but soon uncover dark secrets about one another.
Shane Carruth’s evolution from Primer to Upstream Colour is unbelievably remarkable and unprecedented. Anything that was somewhat amiss in his directorial debut has been touched-up and perfected. Not only has he ditched the incoherency, shadiness, and lack of emotional integrity that remotely plagued Primer. Carruth has infused a sense of awe and wonderment that was vacant throughout his debut, as well as adding the significance of empathy. Carruth has always had the intellect, intrigue, and drive to accomplish riveting and vivid filmmaking. Nevertheless, now that he has merged his craft with the heart and sentimentality needed to spawn truly complete pictures. Carruth’s growth has made him an up-and-coming force to be reckoned with, regardless if you respect his films or not.
It is exceedingly difficult to capture the transcendent, disturbing, atmospheric, sociopathic Upstream Colour in mere words. A similar problem fell upon Primer, as it frustrated and isolated countless viewers. With Upstream Colour, even more so than Primer. Carruth’s idealistic and resourceful search for honesty and truth in fictional settings has left myself and many others speechless. Not to say that time travel, inter-species splicing, or multi-brain connectivity will never exist. Simply put, as of the moment, these futuristic ideals are radical and irrational. Regardless, Carruth’s ability to birth these unique, futuristic irregularities is unrivalled as of the moment and inadvertently makes him one of the most forward-thinking, original, and creatively outstanding individuals in cinema today.
Aside from relying heavily on the shocking and passionate nature of Carruth’s script. Upstream Colour found itself a very favourable and capable lead in Amy Seimetz. She showcases extreme diversity and talent stretching her emotional capabilities to an unmatched extent. Watching her performance, one can’t help but feel bewildered and exhausted. It’s unnerving to see how calm and composed she remains throughout despite, or perhaps in spite of the events she has withstood. Seimetz’s co-star who also happens to be Shane Carruth who pulls multiple duties once again matches up adequately. I don’t have an issue with Carruth acting in his own pictures. That being said, his performances in his first two outings have been passable. Nonetheless, for his future films, I would suggest investing in more experienced and accomplished actors, or at least lessons. It should greatly enhance the effectiveness of his masterful direction and unmatched ability to concoct abstract and beautiful stories.
Decidedly visceral, highly hallucinogenic, and utterly mesmerizing. Carruth’s Upstream Color is rooted with outstanding performances and firm direction.
Upstream Color: 9 out of 10.
Extremely obscure, complex, and compacted. Primer is an enlightening, thought-provoking thriller about the wonders of time travel and the inevitable consequences that accompany it. Managing to stick it out till the end shouldn’t be an issue considering its relatively short running time. However, don’t get too down on yourself if you can’t make it through half of the film. Considering Primer’s intricate, easily confusing, and dense story. It would be miraculous if one could watch unfazed and without being overwhelmed, let alone understanding the plot in a single go-around. Regardless of how discombobulating Primer is. Director and Writer Shane Carruth authentically portrays discovery for what it usually is: accidental, stupefying, and utterly uncontrollable. Remaining grounded and vulnerable while earning an individuality deprived of any commonality with other sci-fi flicks. Primer is an underrated gem and unlike its characters, will never be duplicated.
During their free time, four men work in a suburban garage building and selling products to pay for their side-projects. When Aaron (Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) stumble upon something that they cannot explain. They begin a series of tests and start building new, bigger prototypes. Once they are finally able to comprehend what is happening, their tests become more elaborate and the results, astounding. Soon, everything they once knew is discredited and their friendship begins to falter.
Although Primer’s budget was limited and coincidentally so were the visual options available to its creators…granted, the cast and crew did the best with what they had available to them and what they conjured up is a beautiful and unforgettable journey. Yet, one can’t help but feel that the story and film in general could have benefited from a bit more showmanship. Not to make it easier on the eyes, more so, on the brain. If the viewer could decipher between characters and timelines more simply, Primer’s complexity wouldn’t be so unfathomable. Nonetheless, Primer is an astounding cinematic achievement and goes to show that you don’t need a big budget or high-profile actors to spawn something of merit. Carruth and company have created something truly unique using their intelligence and drive, something that is missing from the majority of cinema today.
Carruth’s ideals really test the extent of our understanding and morality regarding tremendous gifts like intelligence and discovery. While his characters might not always make the best choices. The beauty of Primer is that it’s easy for the viewer to insert themselves in the predicament and make decisions based upon their own personal motivations and values.
The emotional variety, or lack there of, illustrated by Primer’s cast may leave a lot to the viewers imagination. It can be argued that it is primarily due to the numerous clones and timelines. Regardless, Carruth’s ingenious, elaborate, and brilliant story more than makes up for Primer’s seemingly dehumanized cast and visual repetitiveness. Make no mistake, Primer isn’t here to look pretty, you’re here to let its ingenuity and intellect broaden and relentlessly stretch your mind.
Primer: 8 out of 10. (Honestly, as my understanding of the film progresses, the rating may alter. I still need at least a couple of more viewings to fully comprehend Primer).