UPSTREAM COLOR. Starring Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth. Directed by Shane Carruth.96 minutes. Rated M (mature themes).
Upstream Color comes with much critical praise. However, it also comes with much bafflement from the popular audience. It is a work of Shane Carruth who has written and directed as well as photographed and edited the film – and acted in one of the central roles. It is his second film after the critically praised Primer in 2004.
The film is not easy to describe in narrative form. Rather, it relies on atmosphere, on suggestions, on the audience trying to understand what was going on, the experience of the central characters.
The film begins with the focus on a thief, concerned about earthworms, and two youngsters on bikes who are interested in the worms and the effect that they can have when placed in alcohol. There is a transition to a pig farmer who collaborates in something of a transplant process for a young woman who has become ill.
The film focuses on the woman, Kris, who goes through bewildering experiences, not sure of her identity, becoming physically ill, losing her job. She encounters a man who befriends her, supports her, falls in love with her, and is protective.
While this description might sound lucid (it is hoped), the elliptic narrative still requires a great deal of attention, empathy for the woman and what she is experiencing, exploring of the puzzlement about what has happened. There is a focus on the pigs, on the pig farmer and the experiments he was conducting which have dire consequences at times for the young woman.
Throughout the film there is a focus on Thoreau’s Walden and its philosophy of life in the 19th century. At the end, a group of people read Walden and, perhaps, discover something about what has happened in their own lives, akin to that of Kris.
Upstream Color is the kind of film that generally does not appeal to a wide audience. Those for whom it makes an impact praise it, one to tease out its issues and questions.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out August 22 2013.