Upstream Color Review
Experimental cinema is tricky. They are tough to review because it is more about image, mood and atmosphere than it is story, character or theme. There have been some very beautiful experimental cinema in the past, but the experiment as a whole leaves me numb most of the time. Yes, there was certainly supposed to be a pun in there.
"Upstream Color" is about two individuals who meet by coincidence, and they quickly realize that they share something that has been tearing both of them apart for a long time. They have been hypnotized by someone in an experimental process derived from a special flower. Why a particular group of people is experimenting with flowers, I don't know. Sadly they never explain in the movie, which I found to be kind of disappointing. The individuals are drawn into a relationship together and plan to have an ordinary life outside of being hypnotized.
The movie is very beautiful to look at. Shane Carruth's lush cinematography is intoxicating and majestic. In fact, Shane Carruth is actually a true artist. Not only did he create the cinematography, he wrote, directed, produced, edited and starred in the movie too. Carruth played Jeff the man who unknowingly got a parasite put into his body, he soon meets Kris (Amy Seimetz) who we follow through most of the movie. Its great work by Carruth and especially Seimetz. The audience will feel all of Seimetz deterioration throughout the whole film. She does very good work and deserves credit for it.
At the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, this movie was compared a lot too "The Tree of Life." If you remember a little while back, I said I hated "The Tree of Life," it was wondrous to look at. But on a narrative level, it was a huge dud. I like knowing what is going on in a movie, I like it when the characters actually have conversations. I need more than just the pretty pictures and whispers of dialogue. I'd compare the images of "Upstream Color" to "Tree of Life," but I'd definitely prefer "Upstream Color" more. The narrative is there on a much bigger, deeper level. We see Kris and Jeff's relationship on high, low and indifferent. It generates enough characterization that the audience actually cares about the characters.
The story is an interesting one. I just wish Carruth explored it better. I had to sort of guess what was going on, instead of being lead to a conclusion. We know somebody is studying a parasite. We kind of learn that the parasite survives through three cycles. However, we don't learn much else. We don't learn a whole about why this parasite is being studied and what it will be used for. That to me was kind of disappointing. Pigs are used in the studying process too, and I may sound like a big animal rights activist here. But I just want to warn viewers, there are some depressing representations of quasi-animal abuse. Nothing major, but enough to leave scars on the viewers. I like bacon just as much as the next meat eater. But that definitely got to me.
There is certainly a lot to like about "Upstream Color," and it will be an experience I'll remember quite a bit as the year wears on, I'm sure. I think Seimetz was a real discovery, and I hope I see more of her in the future. It had a cool story and good crew work, but the story was the film's fumbling point.
FINAL GRADE: B