Dazzling and Confounding In A Thousand Wonderful Ways
Ever look into a kaleidoscope? One of those mutli-faceted lens toys that presents the viewer with a maddening collage of colors and broken images. For me the magic of it was the combination of familiar and abstract. Real and surreal. While everything was crisscrossed and jumbled, my mind wanted to find order in the chaotic beauty. Upstream Color, the second film by director Shane Carruth, is a perfect example of complex done correctly. While I walked away with more questions than answers, the wonder of the film’s story and execution drove me to learn even more.
A simple framework, Upstream Color is a story about connection and uses some impressive metaphors to tell a powerful story. Amy Seimetz plays Kris, a successful advertising agent who is kidnapped and placed under extreme hypnosis. Once out from under the spell, she finds herself trying to rebuild her life with the help of Jeff (Shane Carruth). The two connect on a number of different levels and for the sake of intrigue, I’ll leave it at that.
The root of the tale is one of connection and how different people react to the multitude of umbilical cords we attach on a daily basis. While the film attacks this premise with an almost science fiction mentality, the main lessons are poignant. Mrs. Seimetz is crucial to the success of the film and she pulls off a complex character with ease. Carruth is also solid as the new man in her life, difficult when juggling both the director’s chair and the lead part. There’s also a third part of the triangle, a strange pig farmer known only as the Sampler (Andrew Sensenig), who adds some important intrigue to the convoluted plot.
But what a wonderful bird’s nest to be stuck in, especially when done so well. The camerawork and cinematography is, in a word, fantastic. Using a combination of quick cuts and long, smoldering shots of random beauty, Carruth keeps the audience on their toes and fully ingrained in the story. Many may find the themes a bit abstract but thanks to deft direction, the film never feels over-arty or pretentious. Much of this is due to the also excellent script and the focus on characters weaving their way through a difficult and emotionally draining situation.
As many may know, I’m not the biggest fan of “art films”. They tend to be too cool for the room and focus on esoteric visuals to elicit audience emotions. With a focus on people, Upstream Color perfectly balances both sides of filmmaking with quality character draped in stunning imagery. Nothing comes easy in Shane Carruth’s world but for those who don’t require spoon feeding, Upstream Color has plenty of meat to warrant the hard work. Sometimes those kaleidoscopes do make sense and when they do, it opens up a whole other world of wondrous possibilities.
Score: 10 out of 10