Thursday, May 2, 2013

Upstream Color ★★★★

A Mesmerizing Follow Up From The Director of Primer

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Do not try to understand Upstream Color after one viewing. It's next to impossible. Instead, let the emotions, good and bad, wash over you and let that be your critique of the movie. It's the second film from director Shane Carruth (Primer), which should help to discern what type of movie this is.

For those who want to have an idea of what they're in for, I'll say this much: a woman, Kris (Amy Seimetz in a haunting performance), is kidnapped and force-fed larvae that make her susceptible to mind control. Her assailant (Thiago Martins) has her perform a variety of bizarre tasks before having her make a series of large withdrawals from her bank and pocketing the money himself. Later, Kris discovers worms gestating right beneath her skin and desperately tries to remove them. When that fails, she's somehow drawn to a farmer who is seemingly obsessed with sound, carrying microphones and recording equipment everywhere he goes. The farmer removes the worms and puts them in one of his pigs in one of the most disturbing surgery scenes I've ever witnessed, and Kris awakens alone and confused in her car on the side of the freeway. Some time later she meets a man, Jeff (Carruth), who becomes a kindred spirit to her, hinting that he, too, may have been experimented on in the past. 

Of everything this movie offers, that just scratches the surface. It's clear that Carruth operates on an entirely different level than I could ever hope to. But as a filmmaker, he certainly is a major talent. He's a director who uses imagery and, for this film, sound design (as noted by film critic Alonso Duralde) to give the audience an almost a dreamlike experience, while at the same time being astoundingly original in his approach to storytelling. His cinematography is evocative, his score is eerie, and his dialogue - what little there is - hardly matters when compared to what he's showing us. Think Terrance Malick, but much more twisted. Better yet, think of Darren Aronofsky's second film, Requiem For A Dream, and you might begin to understand how you'll feel after watching Upstream Color.

It works in the ways that the best science fiction films do; you'll find yourself asking a lot of questions, questions only truly great science fiction offers. I always come back to 2001: A Space Odyssey, as the quintessential science fiction experience. Every time I watch it gives me another interpretation of our place in the universe, where we come from, what's next etc. Upstream Color is offers similar questions, but is more of a cautionary tale of where we are as a civilization, and what certain members of society are capable of when given power. I'm not saying mind control is possible and I'm not saying it isn't. But pondering it's existence and what it could mean is just one of several rewarding pleasures of seeing a film like this. Where 2001 can be seen as more of an optimistic approach to consciousness (depending on your interpretation of it), Upstream Color is it's own dystopia. It takes place in the present, but seems to theorize that our undoing isn't the result of war or attacks from aliens, but instead by human choice. Given the power to control another, would we use it? Carruth is giving us his interpretation of a world gone mad from its own power. It's incredibly effective. 

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