Monday, July 6, 2015

Upstream Color

There are roundworms.  And pigs, several pigs.  Swimming pools, recording devices, glasses of water, rocks, trains, knives, a gun. The novel Walden.  Not mere props.  All are integral to 2013's UPSTREAM COLOR.  There are scene fragments with abstract imagery during its entire ninety five minutes.  The average shot length seems to be three seconds.  There are people, too.  A woman named Kris (Amy Steimetz), a figure credited as "Thief" (Thiago Martins), a pig farmer and location recorder known as "Sampler" (Andrew Sensenig), and Jeff (Shane Carruth, also the film's writer, director, composer, cinematographer, and co-editor).

The events in this film reveal themselves gradually.  Depending on how observant you are, perhaps only after the film has concluded.  Some may long for a cinematic equivalent to Cliffs Notes to get a handle on it. This is a very mysterious motion picture, one of the most enigmatic I've seen.  A palate of  vivid color and rich sounds (this is a foley artist's dream) that evoke memories of Antonionni and Malick.  A work of art to be pondered and discussed.  Obsessed over.  Many will find it random and meaningless.  Distance yourself from such people.

Kris is a victim of mind control at the hands of Thief.  She survives near starvation, depletion of funds, and the ingestion of larva before meeting Jeff, who has likewise suffered misfortune.  They connect, unsure as to why.  Their courtship is not initially romantic.  They begin to argue about their histories - she accusing he of co-opting her memories, stories she's told him about her childhood.  They notice identical scars on their bodies.  Were they both victims of the same evil (though oddly comforting and reassuring) presence?  Are there many others out there of similar experience?

The Sampler wanders about a pig farm, recording both natural and contrived sounds, for some sort of music.  We first see him removing a parasite (via a transfusion) from Kris's arm, later transferring it to one of the pigs, who are as important to the film as any element can be.  Grisly events occur.  Sad things that seem to run parallel with the experiences of Kris and Jeff.  Thoreau's classic novel of individualism, reconnection to nature, and spiritual awareness figures largely in UPSTREAM COLOR, both as a plot (such as it is) device and as a theme that washes over the film's conclusion.  A character even quotes it from memory.

Disparate elements, seemingly.  Carruth never orchestrates easy connections, but for the keen eye they are certainly there. There are cycles of destruction to be observed and ultimately disbanded. Loss and resurrection. Rebirth.

Carruth had earlier puzzled us with 2004's PRIMER, a most imaginative science fiction feature that was shot on a shoestring.  His themes are just as ambitious this time, though more humanistic. His experimental nature of plotting and editing leaves him in a very select class of filmmaker.  Both films require significant effort but are as vital as much great literature.

5 comments:

Steve Finnell said...

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Stephen Ley said...

Truly one of the strangest films I've seen. But intriguing enough that I'll watch it again one of these days.

Anonymous said...

Holy smokes its a veritable landslide of comments! You, LLDrivel, have arrived. Paint your face and be counted.

redeyespy said...

Thank you, Uninidentified One. The hollowness I experience when no one comments is more vast than a measureless black hole...

Anonymous said...

My pleasure. As an LLDrivel reader since the late 80's I am grateful to be witness to the fame and fortune that will no doubt become the hallmark of this blog. Groupies are sure to be right around the corner.