Let’s make this clear right from the start, a good portion of the people that see Shane Carruth’s sophomore film Upstream Color will not like it, but then not all film is for everyone. Trying to understand the film is like unlocking a Rubik’s Cube but, honestly, that’s half the fun.
Carruth made a name for himself in 2004 with the challenging, genre-bending film Primer. The movie has become known for its use of complex scientific and technical language that, while it doesn’t change the brilliance of the film, goes over the head of many casual moviegoers. In watching the film it became clear that as a first time filmmaker Carruth wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries of filmmaking in order to make the film his way.
With Upstream Color he once again pushes the limits of the moviegoers patience by presenting not so much a story but rather a statement. The plot, such as it is, involves Jeff (Carruth) and Kris (Amy Seimetz) that is drawn together by circumstances out of their control. Both have gone through traumatic experiences recently and, through their mutual pain and longing, find some amount of peace in each other. But there is far more going on than meets the eye. A stranger on a pig farm in Vermont floats in and out the film voyeuristically watching events unfold for our two main characters. Having watched the film all the way through twice it is still unclear just who he is and what role he plays in the grand scope of this movie’s universe.
Carruth seems to be challenging himself with this movie by painting broad strokes rather than tight, specific scenes. There is very little dialogue in the movie and one cannot shake the sense that he is pulling a Spike Jonze and creating a meta movie of him creating the movie. There are no easy answers with this film, know that the moment you sit down to watch it. Despite all of this the film itself seems to shine. The cinematography is breathtaking and, although the specific message seems muddled, Carruth is showing he has the skills to take on big ideas. Since he is still very early in his career it is hard to tell how time will treat his approach to movies but, given the right script, one cannot shake that he has the potential to be the next David Lynch.