Thursday, June 13, 2013

Upstream Color Review

My friend Hannah has been on my case to watch this movie for quite a while, and after hearing an interview with creator Shane Carruth on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn (here's a link to the podcast episode if you'd like to listen to it) I knew I had to stop putting it off. Then, lo and behold! The Netflix gods smiled down on us all and gave us Upstream Color on Instant Streaming. And can I just say, wow?
Note: spoilers ahead.

I have never in my life watched a film like Upstream Color. Ever. I think maybe if I had seen Carruth's previous movie, Primer, then I might be coming close to this movie. Here's what I said in a text to Hannah right after watching it, my immediate reaction to the film:

"i can't even like it was amazing!! it wasn't even just like a movie where you watch it you seriously just experience it washing over you. it's an experience. it's not pretentious it's SO unpretentious. oh man oh man"

I mentioned its lack of pretension because I was addressing our fears that maybe it was. It's hard to know how you feel about this movie right away. You watch it and you think, "Was that the most true, honest thing I've ever watched or was it unremittingly pretentious?" After thinking about it, I think it's decidedly the former, although I know there are people who disagree with me. Upstream Color does not think that it's more important than it is; it is exactly as important as it thinks it is. It's trying to be something incredible, something which transcends normal movie watching and gets at a true experience, and it totally succeeds. Maybe I'm just biased by the haze I'm still in after watching it, but I don't think so. And whatever, it's my review anyway.

The plot of the film is sort of hard to describe, but I'll try: A young woman (Amy Seimetz) is drugged with a parasitic worm and kidnapped, kept in a trance while a thief empties her bank accounts. When she finally comes to, her whole life has fallen apart and she has to start from scratch. Then, she meets a man on the train (Shane Carruth) who she is mysteriously drawn to, and it becomes clear that the same thing happened to him. There's cute piglets and mixed-up memories and blue orchids and matching haircuts, but the exact details of the plot aren't super important. It's a film about losing yourself, and being in a relationship, and losing your identity in the relationship.

It's mainly, however, a film about feelings. Literally - it tried to capture feelings and make you experience them in a way normal films do not. The horribly visceral and hauntingly beautiful cinematography, combined with the rumbling, tense soundtrack, combined with the extreme lack of dialogue and the actors' extraordinary performances, wraps you in this intense emotion and really, truly lets you feel what the characters are feeling. It's really hard to describe; the closest I can get is by twisting my hand into a claw and then pounding my collarbone with it. That's what it feels like. It's decidedly uncomfortable and you can't help but watch many scenes with your brow furrowed, trying to understand what's going on. It's hard. I'm definitely going to have to watch it again if I want to really get it. But it'll be worth it, and I'll enjoy it. And you'll enjoy it, too.

My rating: 10/10

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