I always say that a ‘good’ film is one that leaves you feeling different – as though the few hours you’ve spent in the cinema have somehow imbued you with a new sense of being, a fresh pair of eyes and a slightly shifted perspective. Upstream Color takes this to a whole new level.
This film, made up of a somewhat bizarre combination of lights and sounds and rib-rattling sensations is centred around the discovery of a purple-coloured plant residue that, when ingested, will place its victim into a hypnotic stupor in which they will believe and take orders from whoever it is that has poisoned them. They will go so far as to believe that water is in fact a miraculous elixir and that it is perfectly normal to hand over all your money to a complete stranger. Then, and you’ll have to forgive my total lack of understanding here, those who have been infected, somehow find themselves connected both emotionally and mentally to an individual pig.
I know, this sounds TOTALLY crazy, right? And it is. It’s mental. And all the way through the film I was thinking ‘what the hell is going on?!’. I still don’t get it. BUT – and here’s the crucial point – when I left the cinema, I felt as though I had been hypnotized. I walked home, unable to process the normal, everyday noises of life happening around me. Instead I was in a complete trance. Each step was a milestone, heavy with significance. Upstream Color may have been a complete mish-mash of randomness but it had somehow hit the top of the scale in accordance with my definition of a ‘good’ film. It left me feeling spaced-out, slightly introverted and ultimately, totally ecstatic!
Director Shane Carruth, who previously reached cult status with his first film, Primer, proves once again, that he is not just in possession of an extraordinary imagination, but also a hell of a lot of talent. Not only did he direct Upstream Color, but he also wrote its soundtrack and played one of its protagonists. The latter of these tasks was supported by Amy Seimetz‘s beautifully nuanced performance opposite Carruth as his lover.
Despite its altogether crazy story-line, Upstream Color reaches an other-wordly sense of wonder, reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s work in its sheer emotional and visceral magnitude. Its minimal script returns ceaselessy to Thoreau’s “Walden”, as though reminding us, in addition to the plot connecting humans to animals, that human nature is ultimately at one with nature itself: “The life in us is like the water in the river,”; Upstream Color summed up in one sentence.
If you feel in need of an entirely different cinematic experience, don’t miss Upstream Color. This is cinematic artwork at its finest.