4 × 3 =

eleven + 1 =

Upstream Color [2013] is the second feature film directed, written, produced, scored by, and starring Shane Carruth; an ambitious follow up to his critically acclaimed independent time traveling debut Primer. The film also stars Amy Seimetz as Kris, who alongside Shane Carruth’s Jeff struggle to reassemble their lives and discover their identities after being taken advantage of by an idiosyncratic thief.

My Head Is Made Of The Same Material As The Sun. Shane Carruth established himself as a unique filmmaker and storyteller in 2004 with his debut film which follows two friends as they accidentally create a time machine. Created on a shoestring budget and shot nearly 1:1 on a limited roll of film, it carefully unravels a plot which evolves across nine or more timelines without ever giving the audience a hint or break from the forward momentum and educated dialogue shared by the characters. It’s a refreshing and challenging movie watching experience that doesn’t leave room to question whether or not it needs to be viewed at least three more times, and with Upstream Color that would seem to prove to be the filmmaker’s modus operandi.

They Could Be Starlings. Carruth’s follow-up is only more ambitious, more complex, and more refreshing and challenging as films go. Given a bit of a larger budget (but still nowhere near 6 figures) and a lot more as far as picture and audio quality is concerned, Upstream Color paints a story in a way only film can. Mostly void of dialogue with a soundtrack as a means of driving emotion alongside a heavy dose of some of the best sound design you’re likely to hear. The story forms together from pieces that ultimately add up to wholes, each of which is littered full of so many subtle and brilliant fragments that even upon ones umpteenth viewing things will stand out and be noticed for the first time.

A Sullen Rush And Roar. Every aspect of the production is mesmerizing, and even when one isn’t sure what the hell is going on exactly in the story it’s impossible to turn away or become uninterested. The strangeness of the circumstances of the events on screen are more than enough to hook, but the impeccable score and beautiful cinematography simply absorb the viewer like some filmmakers only dream of. It’s an experience that’s hard to pin down and will likely change from viewing to viewing. At first one might be hypnotized and confused, piecing together the dots to figure out what it all means. Next one might be moved to tears at the beauty and emotion on display, and at times one might question why tears are being shed in the first place. It’s a mysterious and miraculous thing.

Worms And Pigs and Who We Are. The story is simple, abstract, and grand all at once. The root of the tale seems to be mostly about individuality: what makes a person who they are? If you strip away everything from a person’s life, what makes them who they are when the dust settles and they begin to put the fragments back together? And when it comes to love, being in a relationship, what sets both parts of the pair a part? What makes each of us an individual within a couple? When does the illusion of individuality start to crumble away, and if it does, why? Mind you, these are some of the simpler questions the film puts forth.

A Progression Of Moods And Feelings. It’s hard to review something like Upstream Color. It’s such a unique experience, and it’s not likely going to attract all those who partake. It’s challenging, beautiful, and emotional. It’s meant to make one feel and force one to think. Where the structure of the story or the performance of the actors can be debated or defined to a point, what cannot be questioned is the craftsmanship of the production as a whole. Every aspect of this film is technically brilliant. Each shot is lit and composed masterfully. The sound design is stunning and easily one of the most important and memorable aspects of the film. The score is haunting, sad, hopeful, and moving in ways that are difficult to describe. I believe most of what’s conveyed here is hard to describe, thus music allows us to penetrate deeper than words or pictures can possible reach. The level of detail and work put into this micro-budgeted indie project is astounding to say the least. This is an important film to experience and study, for those who enjoy absorbing cinema and particularly for those who strive to create it. Shane Carruth is a unique, iridescent storyteller whose work should be watched closely.

Technically brilliant, emotionally vibrant, thought-provoking and challenging.
Upstream Color
5.0Overall Score
Reader Rating 1 Vote