Must Watch: Upstream Color

upstream color
Shane Carruth already made history with Primer, yet his recent effort, Upstream Color is nothing short of amazing.

This wondrous feature is focused on a complex, organic ecosystem – specifically, a parasite – and its side effects.

The three stages of its development are not all natural or accidental, but rather involve a great deal of human interference.

The cycle is intriguing, mildly pointless, yet the protagonists, caught up in an X-Files worthy mystery, suffer the brunt of the consequences, as they struggle to survive in society despite the fact that they are forever altered.

Initially, there are orchids. Simple, available, for sale flowers, potted for your consumption, and yet they are dismantled, human hands burrowing to find larvae hiding in its root systems.

The larvae is carefully processed, sorted, ingested, turned into tea, popped into a pill.

Kris, a well-organized adult with a job is exposed rather violently to a larva. The man forces her into a hypnotic state, takes her home, and exploits her susceptibility to suggestions. She obeys without a question for endless days, signing off all her personal wealth and assets, even taking out a loan, all the while completing a series of meaningless tasks.

She doesn’t eat, but only drink water. She thinks that the man is composed of sunshine, never looking directly at his face. After collecting all her money, the man releases her from his control allowing her to consume solid foods.

The infection doesn’t stop there as Kris soon discovers that her body is infected by worms cascading underneath her skin. Horrified and traumatized, she attempts at cutting them out.

Another man sets up a set of speakers, with organic sounds booming into the ground, drawing Kris to his ambulatory set-up. In the ambulance, a surgical procedure is performed, involving a piglet. The piglet becomes a carrier for all the parasites creeping under her epidermis.

Kris awakens abandoned in a car with strange wounds, and after heading home she tries to reconstruct what happened only to face a set of new realities: she no longer has a job, as she cannot provide an explanation for her extended absence, nor does she have any assets left. She has been bamboozled, her life left in shatters.

Kris, now working a low level job at a print shop, meets Jeff. The two feel connected and as time goes on, they find more connections and parallels between them. Increasingly they seem to swap memories, both succumbing to a set of odd, compelling yet mentally unstable behaviors.

Jeff admits to the fact that he too had a psychotic break, after which he stole money from the company he worked for, and as a result, his life was in tatters.

The two not only commiserate but share emotions, memories, even movements.

The strange man who performed the procedure on Kris kills the pig connected to Kris, while leaving its piglets behind. The corpse is discarded into the water, and as it decomposes, it releases the color, dying the local orchids blue.

The strange man both dies and gets killed by Kris who uncovers a box with details of surgical records pertaining to both her and Jeff. Their suspicions are confirmed, as they finally understand that they have more than affections in common.

The affected visit the farm, and rehabilitate it to a new, caring place. Kris, barren from an bout with cancer, looks after the piglets in a loving, peaceful way.

Carruth’s film is both disturbing, enigmatic, and puzzling. It is a mystery that will occupy your attention and leave you with a feeling of unease, regret, fear, as well as contentment.

The soundscape plays an important role. In fact the strange man / farmer collects not only the piglets and the worms, but sounds. At some point, the parallels are not solely drawn between Kris and Jeff, but also the soundscape experienced by the farmer.

Similarly, Kris can detect the orchids and not only the blue ones. Her compulsive actions, such as diving for rocks on the bottom of the swimming pool, allows her to experience audio-visual connections to orchids, and the soundscape experiments of the strange man/farmer.

The parasitic infection builds connections between select individuals, animals, and plants. These connections allow for sharing on a base level, emotional, physical, visual and auditory. Yet, the concept of sharing is displayed in a dysfunctional form not because it is dysfunctional, but because it hardly belongs in the machine of society.

The world around Kris and Jeff seems unforgiving and inflexible. Both have succumbed to a traumatic set of events that stripped them of their finances and their reputations. Akin to rape victims, they wonder around, trying to piece themselves together, attempting to get back “in there” while striving for at best, a pretense at normalcy. Even their memories do not belong to them. As you watch Jeff dismantle a box of straws only to use their paper wrappers to build a chain, you realize that their insanity and compulsion continues in private. It is dark, disturbing, and malevolent.

They both continue to struggle and drown in a sea of confusion, melancholy and disonance, as they attempt at separating their own identity, memories, actions.

Carruth accomplishes to bring about a very complex, touching, confusing story, within a beautifully wrapped cinematography and sound. In fact, I would be as bold as to say that Carruth has become (or has been confirmed) a master of independent cinematography. Upstream Color is mildly eerie, brilliant, strange, and mesmerizing, and multi-talented Carruth has once more succeeded at conveying a complex narrative using his acting, composing, writing and directing skills.