“Upstream Color” is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen before.
The only negative thing I may say about the film, which is written and directed by Shane Carruth, is that it can be hard to follow now and again. The plot jumps around a bit from character to character, but it’s easy to see that our protagonist is the main focus of the story.
The story opens, putting a farmer at the center of the focal lens. He’s harvesting the lucky maggots who’ve inherited the chemical which has begun to grow spontaneously on the leaves of flower in his field.
His first experiments include the inhalation of the drug by two kids, near the age of 15-years-old, or so. They do a little dance and become in sync with each other. Their movements become one as their minds appear to meld.
This drug appears to give the consumer the gift of group mentality, like that of a sheep or pig. Or, take people, for instance. When you get a lot of people together and they learn to adapt to the habits of one another, they begin to act in a similar fashion.
I’ve read Mancur Olson’s theory on group behavior and I’ve studied religions dating back to time of the pharaohs and this idea is still far beyond my reach or comprehension.
But, let’s get back to the plot.
Our main character, Kris (Seimetz,) loses everything, at the whim of this mad scientist who has a habit of playing with the will of a select group of individuals working their way to the American dream in New York City. I’ll spare you the disturbing details, yet as a result of her imprisonment, she ostracizes herself from society. Despite her efforts to live a lonely life of monotonous routine, she can’t seem to shake the affection of a guy named Jeff (Carruth) who takes notice of her as they both ride the train at the same time each day.
They fall in love and despite her nervous ticks and strange habits, he asks her to marry him.
Here’s where we lay witness to the magic of the film. We get a glimpse of a few of the other characters who play semi-large roles, in their own right, in the ever-evolving lives of Kris and Jeff.
A series of events unfolds, each piece of the puzzle mathematically set in motion, yet poetically charged to wrack your body and transfix your mind into thinking maybe we are all living within a prison of our own creation.
The musical score, composed by Carruth, becomes both high- and low-pitched at the same time. The colors of blue and yellow mix. The beginning swallows up the end and the ending begins.
Many were taken advantage of during the course of Kris’s brainwashing, while the ones who survived have memorized the entirety of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.” I think the passages shared from the book extricate the deeper meaning of the film.
“When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only,” she recites from the introduction.
While Jeff watches Kris dive in and out of an indoor swimming pool in search for rocks she put there herself, he discovers she’s repeating Thoreau’s exact words, each time she comes up for breath.
In watching the film, I begin to feel a sickness blooming from underneath my skin. Being unable to explain the source of this anxiety, it was necessary for me to write about it instead.
I must say, this movie really has it all. If you’re into horror, romance, sci-fi or any strange concoction discovered in between, you may or may not like “Upstream Color.”
By the end of the film, I’m left with so many questions that I’m unsure I want to know the answers to any of them. Does Carruth believe in fate? Were Jeff and Kris meant to find each other? Is there such thing as random happenstance or coincidence? Or did someone set in motion a pendulum of such incredible weight that its influence can be seen in the cycle of nature?
In sharing this film with us, I believe Carruth is trying to communicate the message that there’s a missing part of your life which you may not be aware of, a singing rhythm continuing on endlessly, connecting you to the deepest roots of the Earth. It’s the rhythm of life, of hearts beating, of circles colliding, rocks forming, disease spreading, replicating, consuming itself, then repeating the process. The bohemian idea that life is renewed in death is a difficult one to comprehend and Carruth places an emphasis on the subject unbeholden to the laws of physics or the song of the soul.
Given the freedom to allow this enigma to fester within his heart almost to the point of bursting, he let the virus spread throughout the rest of his world, sharing with us the trauma of knowing some greater truth, while everyone else on the planet turns the other cheek.
Does this make you mad? Should you be deemed insane if you feel you don’t belong? If you are unsure of your place in the world, this movie may not give you a sense of direction, but perhaps after watching it, you can carve out your own small niche in this infinite universe of ours.
To be honest, I don’t think this movie is meant to be interpreted. It’s meant to be swallowed whole or taken in my small doses, whichever path you choose, the decision is yours to make and to keep for yourself. Irrational or rational, your reason for liking or hating it suits you however you so please.
You can find “Upstream Color” on Netflix and iTunes or Amazon Prime if you’re a subscriber. If you’re a member of either of these services, Carruth will give you the experience of this visual beauty for free.