How do you even begin to explain a film as unconventional as Upstream Color that defies categorization, description, and total understanding? Let’s start here: Shane Carruth, an engineer turned self-taught, multi-hyphenate filmmaker, only had a $7,000 budget when he first made himself known in stumping us with 2004′s nifty, knotty time-travel puzzle Primer, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Nine years later and still wearing multiple hats, Carruth is the writer-director-actor-producer-cinematographer-editor-composer and self-distributer—a fiercely independent and ambitious auteur, wouldn’t you say?—for his more accomplished sophomore feature.
Upstream Color, an experimental tone poem about hypnosis, ice water, grub worms, pigs, and Henry David Thoreau, is as intellectually demanding as it is frustratingly baffling and unique as it is obtuse. No dinky description can really do justice to the experience of watching it for yourself, but here goes nothing. Kris (a fragile, heartbreaking Amy Seimetz) is accosted at a bar, only to become the guinea pig for a mind-control experiment by a mysterious thief (Thiago Martins). Being drugged with special grub worms that float around her system, she completes a series of rituals, steals from herself as instructed, and harms herself. Later, snapping out of the spell, she is stripped of her memory, depleted of her life savings, and unemployed. On a commuter train, Kris meets Jeff (an understated Carruth) and they begin a relationship. The couple starts finding their memories to be entangled and part of something bigger. Perhaps The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig), who has a pig farm and records ambient noises, has something to do with it. Continue reading