Shane Carruth’s second feature, Upstream Colour (2013), following an almost decade-long gap since his debut, the enigmatic time-travel film Primer (2004), is a film that is difficult to adequately describe in the language normally used in film reviews. It defies genre conventions, features no recognisable stars, and has no central narrative hook. Upstream Colour will not be a rewarding experience for everyone who sees it, but it ought to be seen, nonetheless. A thief (Thiago Martins), forces Kris (Amy Seimetz) to ingest a grub found among the roots of a particular plant which gives him total control over her body and mind.
The thief subsequently empties Kris’ bank accounts. By the time the effects wear off, days (perhaps weeks) have passed, and her life is in ruins. As she tries to pick up the pieces, she and a fellow commuter, Jeff (Carruth) become drawn together. Seimetz has an unusual charisma, demanding attention even as Kris shies away from it. Carruth himself is a fine actor, but his achievements as writer, director, composer and co-editor far exceed his work in front of the camera. The film’s oblique approach to narrative and unorthodox structure seem to gesture in so many different directions that it may be impossible to identify one specific thing that Upstream Colour is really about – which is entirely part of its enigmatic charm.
It could be a parable on the quietly destructive rigours of modern society; the evolution of connectivity and communication in the digital age; the thief’s activities, and references to financial mismanagement in Jeff’s past could indicate some form of commentary on the recent economic crises. Upstream Colour represents this search for meaning within itself, with constant recurring images of hands stretching out to make contact with something just out of reach. It is a kaleidoscopic picture, a wholly cinematic blend of philosophical romance, metaphysical thriller, science fiction. It suggests ideas and patterns involving water, biology, telepathy, sound design; things both abstract and concrete, which seem utterly disparate and yet merge to fill out the tissue and texture of one of the finest films of 2013. The film before you is somehow special. Each viewing is better than the last, leaving you with a desire for one more.
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