Upstream Colour (2013)
You know what? There is absolutely no point lying about this. I had absolutely no freaking idea what was going on in Upstream Colour. I honestly don’t think I have ever understood a movie less, at least not for a long, long time. Who’s to blame? Is it me for just being for a total brainless idiot who should go back to watching movies starring Nicolas Cage, or is it Shane Carruth’s fault for producing a movie which totally alienates most of its audience? And more importantly, do you have to understand a movie to enjoy it?
The answer, I think, is no. Even though I couldn’t give you a plot synopsis if there was a gun pointed to my head, it’s not like I got nothing out of it. Upstream Colour is beautiful and vivid with human emotions: fear, anger, love. Although my brain was incapable of stringing everything together, each set of scenes existed as self-contained vignettes and moments in time which could be just as immersive and provocative on their own. It opens on a fairly linear body horror, which I ended up having to watch from behind a shield of fingers, where a strange man infects a young woman’s body with poisoned maggots which give him the ability to control her mind, declaring that she cannot look at him as he is made of the same material as the sun. It’s really unnerving stuff. From this point onwards the storyline splits in two, becoming increasingly abstract in its approach as it follows the young woman’s with a man who seemingly suffers from the same side effects as her, and the pig-farmer who supposedly saved her life as he spends his time recording the sounds of nature to create music and find beauty in the natural world. The struggle of this couple to just function as normal human beings while coming to terms with their own issues is often contrasted with scenes of pigs: it adds a weird kind of baseness to the whole thing, that we’re all essentially just sacks of flesh and bone trying to get by. Granted, I might have missed the boat here on this movie, but it definitely made me feel something.
It’s difficult to talk about this kind of abstract storytelling with out turning to the works of Terrence Malick. Now, I need to set something straight first. I really, really hate Malick’s work. I’ve always seen it as base symbolism sucked dry of any reality or life, like a mediocre university literature essay. But here, Carruth offers us just enough realism to create a real human, emotional connection between us and his characters. In fact,the only real section of the film that I didn’t enjoy was its closing moments and Carruth’s shift into some real Malick-esque territory, forgoing narrative for pretty images. You know how everyone complained when Return of the King had like 20 different endings and people would keep getting up because the screen went black only to then awkwardly have to sit back down because there’s still another 20 minutes left? Yeah, that but with pigs running around instead of hobbits. For all my lack of understanding of plot, I could at last tell when some kind of resolution had been reached and I definitely found myself prematurely reaching for my jacket a couple of times.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: SHANE CARRUTH
STARS: AMY SEIMETZ, SHANE CARRUTH, ANDREW SENSENIG, THIAGO MARTINS, KATHY CARRUTH
RUNTIME: 96 MINS APPROX