Title: Upstream Color
Director(s): Shane Carruth
Release Year: 2013
Shane Carruth was an unknown as a filmmaker when he debuted “Primer” at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. A time travel film with highly scientific elements, “Primer” was thought of as a return to the intelligence of Science Fiction filmmaking and ideas. Awarded with the Alfred P. Sloan prize for films dealing with science and technology & the Grand Jury prize, Carruth’s career looked as it was about to bloom and he would become one of the best filmmakers to fly out of Sundance, until he disappeared. Within the years, Carruth had revealed work on a film that he had worked on for quite a few years called “A Topiary” but fell apart in development. Thankfully after nearly a ten year wait Carruth has released his latest film, Upstream Color.
Upstream Color follows Kris (Amy Seimetz) and Jeff (Shane Carruth); two people who have experienced something beyond complete comprehension and understanding. Brainwashed and robbed of her life savings, Kris wakes up to find something amiss with her body that needs to be taken care of. Later on, Kris meets Jeff; a man who feels a connection to her but through forces he cannot understand either. As the film moves forward, we are witnesses to their blossoming relationship and the outside forces that may have a hand in their fate and eventual outcome.
Carruth’s Upstream Color is perhaps one of the most incredibly technical and beautiful films I have ever seen. Between uniquely crafted and choreographed shots of people walking down a hallway to Trumbull-esque visuals of organic matter either decaying or growing, the cinematography (by Carruth himself) brilliantly gives us brief glimpses into life. The small window from which we, as an audience, peer into feels as if it has been extended to give us an idea of the story that initially doesn’t feel like a story that he wants to tell but needs to tell. Sound design is just as amazing. Subtle yet shocking when it truly needs to be, the score (once again by Carruth) washes over the audience with a vast understanding of the outside world and the music that may come from that. Even five minutes of the film comes down to that true music can come from the sound of the world.
Another strength of the film is within the performances. Carruth (does this guy ever relax?) taking one of the lead roles is incredibly real in how toned down and believable it feels. Every line doesn’t feel inserted for irritable self-importance, especially in his voice. Seimetz carries us through the first half hour of the film and leads us on our introduction into the world of Upstream Color. Her characters brings all the strong emotion to the film and the sense of loss that we, as viewers, occasionally feel in our journey through the film. Her strength just jumps to us as we witness her story and we can’t help but feel strong with her.
If there’s anything to learn from this film, it’s that we need watch for anything that comes from Carruth. When someone calls film art, I would point that person directly to this just to prove them right. Every frame, music cue, performance feels inspired and calculated without looking as if it’s trying. There’s nothing more admirable than seeing work from someone who definitely knows what they’re doing and this is no exception. Yes, I’m just spewing love for it at this point but to be perfectly honest, I feel like it’s deserved, and reasonable so. I don’t remember the last time I have watched something with such awe and disbelief as to how someone could make something so ambitious and beautiful with little to no compromise by anyone in the film. When this is added to my shelf of blu-rays, there will always be a feeling that I need to watch it again and again. And I probably will.