Skip to main content

Upstream Color

Hypnotic, beautifully filmed, disturbing, and incredibly frustrating, Upstream Color by Shane Carruth is also my favorite movie this year. A number of reviews compared it to Tree of Life by Terrence Malick but I'd say you'd have to throw in Videodrome by David Cronenberg and Scanner Darkly by Richard Linklater as obvious influences as well. This is a movie with less of a plot than an order of events that make a kind of stark, emotional sense when viewed together.

Shane Carruth was the director of 2004's Primer which remains one of my absolute time-travel movies. Part of the problem of describing a movie like Upstream Color is that the film is intent to dissolve such boundaries. Upstream Color is no where coherent enough to describe in terms of a genre but it is the superior film simply by being the more personal artistic statement.

So while I can't really tell you what the film is about, there are certain things I can describe. A woman named Kris (played by Amy Seimetz) is attacked by an identity thief, fed something that appears to be a mescaline worm and falls into a deep, highly susceptible trance for a period of days. During that time, the thief commands her to turn over all of her money and assets. Having taken what he needs, the man abandons her to the increasingly agitated worm and her own attempts at self-surgery to release it. While extremely disturbing, the scenes are also strikingly beautiful, gentle washes of color and ivory follow the woman as she goes through elaborate, mindless rituals of self-destruction.

Once free of the worm, her life in ruins, Kris runs into Jeff (played by Shane Carruth), a similarly damaged individual. They fall in love, attempt to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and gradually realize that their identities may have fused somehow and that the mystery of what had happened to them may revolve around a pig farm owned by an amateur found-sound musicologist.

In the final section we learn that the worm may be a part of the complicated life cycle of a parasite that progresses from human being, through the guts of pigs, to orchids growing in a stream. We see that all of the miseries of Kris and Jeff are related to an entire cottage industry revolving around the bluish secretions of the parasite infested worms.

But none of this is spelled out exactly, and the ending, in particular, is masterfully ambiguous. There is a way to take this film as simply an elaborate metaphor for the insanity of falling in love with another individual, feeling one's own memories bleed into someone else. However, there are clearly aspects of the film that are happening, that are real. The miniature economy surrounding the cultivation of the plants and their worms is too specific and detailed to be dismissed as fantasy. I was left with a sense that the worm has left the personalities of the characters in the film mutable, intermingled, even as the larger world around them burbled around them in an indifferent stream.

I'm not sure a second viewing would make this any more comprehensible, but that isn't why I'm recommending this movie. You will want to see this for how it bases an entire visual poem on the discarded bits of science fiction.

What I'm reading: Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf
What I'm listening to: The King is Dead by Decemberists
What I'm watching: Kids in the Hall (Season 1)
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Review of I Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski

Even 23 years later, I remember 1994 and Kurt Cobain's death. I experienced that moment as a kind of inside out personal crisis. I felt ashamed by his death. As though his exit in someway indicted my own teenage miseries. "I wish I was like you," goes the verse in 'All Apologies,' "Easily amused." I felt as though a check I hadn't remembered writing had just been cashed. 

SP Miskowski's book, named after the first half of that line, is in the words of another reviewer, a novel that shouldn't work. The narrator is unlikeable, unreliable, and dead. The plot is almost entirely told as a flashback and long sections of the novel concern the inner processes of the writer. The daily grind to summon up enough self-esteem to carry a sentence to its logical conclusion is a real struggle, people, but it ain't exactly riveting.

But the thing is, this novel works. It is one of the best things I've read all year and a real achievement in weird ficti…

What I Read in 2017

The third in my series of year-end lists is literature. As in past years, I've divided this post into two categories: Novels and short stories. Each of these stories made 2017 just a bit brighter for me and I hope this list includes at least a writer or two new to you.

I Wish I was You by SP Miskowski: This was the subject of a review earlier this year. The way I feel about this novel, the tragedy of a talented person crippled by anger and regret, transformed into a monstrous avatar of wrath, has not really left me. Beyond the perfection of its prose and its preternatural subject matter, I feel like this is one of the best evocations of the mid-nineties I've seen published. There's something about this book that lingers with me long past the concerns of its plot and characters. I guess what I'm trying to say is this work moved me. 2017 would have been a lot dimmer if I hadn't read this work.New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson: Robinson writes next-level sp…

Review of "Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste

Part of the reason American Gods works is that it offers a kind of reward to folk lore mavens and religious study majors. Do you have a working familiarity with obscure Northern European mythologies? Are you able to describe what Neil Gaiman got right and what he fudged a bit in terms of the Egyptian religion? Then the guessing games of that novel - just which Middle Eastern Goddess is this? - magnify its other charms. 
"Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste (released by Broken Eye Books), is a novella for people, like me, who are waiting impatiently for the next season of Bryan Fuller's show. It's not set in that universe, certainly, but approaches the question of folklore from a similar perspective. Namely, that myths have a definite, physical explanation and your knowledge of such things will expand your enjoyment of the work. In the case of Pretty Marys, the stories are urban legends and nursery rhymes about young women. The main character, Rhee, is named…