Thoughtful filmmakers intent on making engaging experimental films in today’s cinematic climate are fearless. Only a handful of filmmakers, able to uncover the balance between formal abstraction and narrative fluff, succeed in making films that are a cut above the rest. Harmony Korine of course rules this utopia, as does David Lynch, Michel Gondry and to a certain extent Terrance Malick, with his rapturous depiction of regeneration. Hopefully, Shane Carruth, the writer, director and star, of his second film Upstream Color, will become the newest, most promising member of this crew.
In Upstream Color, Kris (Amy Seimetz) is the victim of a terrifying attack by an inconsequential assailant named “The Thief” who forces her to ingest a parasitic worm that keeps her under hypnosis. While he empties her banks accounts and drains her equity, Kris learns how to master the simple act of repetition, which becomes so engrained in her psyche, it sends her into a complex mental disorder post trauma. It is when she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), that overall aura of the unknown in Upstream Color truly begins. And I haven’t even mentioned the cosmic bond with pigs or the reciting of Thoreau’s Walden while diving for mineral rocks.
The initial pull of the film plays with fear of disease and parasitic invasion, yet it’s softly lit scenes and contemporary art direction keep the thriller convention at bay. Navigating the rough terrain of experimentation, the raison d’etre of Upstream Color is to explore aspects of memory, reincarnation, and perceived reality.
It gets weird, but it’s beautiful. As much as it disturbs, it is equally packed with the lush of that which exists in life – love, sound, trust, nature and the beauty that wades in mortality.