July 7, 2013

Upstream Color

Shane Carruth, 2013

Kris (Amy Seimetz) gets abducted and gets put into a state of hypnosis from a mysterious plant extract. When she finally comes out of it, she attempts to piece her life back together. She encounters Jeff (Shane Carruth), who has endured a similar experience, and together they both try to make sense of their changed world.

When I watched this film for the first time, I made the mistake of taking periodic breaks from it. BIG mistake. While you may get away with that with some other films, this is a film built for one sitting. There's just so much there. It's just not going to be beneficial taking yourself out of Carruth's vision and stepping back in when you please, hoping to immediately reorient yourself. Therefore, I gave the film the honor of re-watching a second time and boy was I happy I did.

The film possesses qualities similar to Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's a wonderfully shot film, which really gives the impression that Carruth has evolved with much of his film-making abilities since making the gritty low-budget sci-fi time travel thriller Primer. The visual elements of the film are excellent, at times very dream-like. Detailed interiors, blinding white light, molecular shots of the blue extract taking hold. Impressive editing. Carruth (deservedly) won the Special Jury Prize for Sound Design at Sundance. The soundtrack reinforces the hypnotic sensibility, with a resonating cadence similar to the soundtrack of The Assassination of Jesse James or the aforementioned Eternal Sunshine.

It's not just a film about an abduction, drugging and the recovery. It's about way more than just Kris' abduction. It's about way more than whatever trauma Jeff has also experienced. It examines a particular life force, and essence of being, a certain vein of existence. A frequency of sound, or many sounds. A connection with the animal world. A communication system one has with nature, similar to the plant system in Avatar but much more complex. I was guilty of thinking too abstractly the first time seeing the film, when the concepts of the film are actually much more literal. Shane Carruth is clearly a high-IQ filmmaker, capable of making intelligent films on par with Christopher Nolan, David Lynch or Darren Aronofsky. It will be interesting to see what kinds of films he continues to make, presumably with growing budgets.

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