D.M. Haight

As far as uniqueness goes, you cannot help but consider Shane Carruth to be one of the most unique new directors to break out in the last five years. His newest film, Upstream Color, has an amazing focus, astounding even. He’s playing more, asking us to question what’s real; what’s reality, what’s the fiction we’ve designed for ourselves. His fragmented narrative style seems reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and in many ways there can be comparisons between those two films, but Carruth’s newest venture does nothing but intrigue and engage it’s audience.

We open with some kids who have developed a certain ability after ingesting a soda that has mixed in it a mucous from a certain kind of maggot. This gives them a new perception of reality. They can anticipate the movements in their fights, be perfectly choreographed without the use of their eyes on the first try of their “dance”. The drug derived from the maggot enables a certain level of control over another person, and it creates a strange connection with those who ingest it. Carruth, throughout the film, is doing a great job of conveying the idea that we are all connected somehow, some way, to everything. Amy Seimetz , who plays Kris, does a spectacular job as a woman who has her mind abducted, used, and ultimately connected in new and fantastic ways to different consciences, feeling the emotional ups and downs we don’t believe exist.

Kris loses everything in the process. Her job is lost, her financial stability is reduced to ruin levels, and she’s left working in a print shop, doing menial work. The loss she suffers gives her the chance to gain greater enlightenment, and to find Jeff, played by Director Shane Carrut. Jeff is just as lost as Kris in life. He’s been a person he’s not proud of, but he’s trying to change, and he’s trying to break Kris from her stupor, trying to be a force of good and focus in her hazy, bleak world.

Upstream Color is a film that analyzes the strange events that bring us together, the odd ways we try to connect, and the even odder ways we are almost forced to connect. The complexity of the relationships that happen to form, one way or another, goes so deep that it causes stress and anxiety for Kris and Jeff. Both are forced to deal with the aftermath of Kris’s mental abduction, and the keys to discovering how and why her thoughts and life have been corrupted are buried deep inside her memories. They break free from their confinement viciously, violently. But the reasons mean nothing to us. The film isn’t about the search for greater enlightenment, it’s just about moving on in any way we can. Kris is troubled by her thoughts, because of a connection they have to other beings, other consciousnesses.

The Sampler, played by Andrew Sensenig, is a lonely man; more of a ghost than a man, really. He collects sounds to draw up worms from the dirt and mud, and he performs experiments on those who happen to have a worm in them, like Kris. He’s the would-be, faceless, villain who tampers with lives for no rhyme or reason, expect to inspect, and attempt to divine greater meaning. He’s silent, unimpressive, quizzical, understanding, uncomplicated, and sad. He has himself and he has pigs. He doesn’t need anything more. But the sadness in those eyes are striking, and when it comes time to face his end, he does so wandering through the consciousness of Kris. He’s a being that doesn’t altogether exist. He’s there, but he’s unperceived by everyone. Walking through forests, sliding rocks down hills, knocking over miniature walls, just to collect the sound, he perfects his tones to bring out the worms for his experiments. There isn’t a strong mad scientist feeling from him, and he is lost in whatever stupor he’s in. Like Kris, he can’t break from his mind’s fog.

I have to be honest. I’ve watched this movie more than a couple times and, although it gets better with each viewing, I’m still lost on some parts. It’s a complex film, and American cinema is incredibly lucky to have a writer/director like Carruth among its ranks. Maybe, if Carruth can keep making films of this quality, we can begin to understand these type of films more, learn to expect some simplicity with our complexity, and maybe choose to be patient and watch a film like Upstream Color. American cinema is drowning in popcorn fare, and it’s rare that we find a gem like this with the quality of film making and story telling attached to each other. It’s visually striking, narratively engaging, and we can only hope it keeps getting better from here.

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