Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Upstream Color

I don’t remember the first time became aware that there is a film called Primer(2004) but it definitely wasn’t a while ago. I still haven’t seen it myself but it is in my Netflix queue and from what I have heard, I am definitely excited to have a look. I am just waiting for the right time. Apparently it is not something you watch casually. Shane Carruth, Write, Director and Star of the film, made quite a reputation for himself from it. When he released his second film, Upstream Colour(2013) about a month ago, he once again got everyone talking about it. I don’t know if it was or will be playing in any theaters around me but last week it was made available on Netflix Instant. And instead of waiting for big screen release which may or may not happen any time soon and for Primer to watch first, I decided to give it a try.

You’ll have to bear with me in this because there will be a lot ‘I don’t understand exactly what happened but something like…’ since Upstream Colour is that kind of film. If you know anything about Shane Carruth, if you have seen Primer or have heard about it, you would have some idea about that. In the beginning, we see a man working on making something from the plants or specifically worms in the roots of the plants. It looks like he is making some kind of drink with the worms in it. We see two kids. One of them gives other one a drink that is filtered by a filter with a worm in it. When the other boy drinks it, he imitates every move first boy makes perfectly with his eyes closed. I made two assumptions here; first, this kid grows up to be the guy we saw earlier and second, that drink probably has some hallucinatory effects.

Next, we see this guy lurking around suspiciously trying to find someone. His eyes fall on a young woman Kris, as we know it later, alone, perfect victim for him. He dopes her with his potion and from that point onwards, she is like under his spell. This proves my second assumption and I had to be content with 1 of the two since there was no way to prove the former. She makes her do a lot of weird things but essentially takes her money and leaves her be. When she wakes up, she does not remember what happened to her. She loses her job because she just vanished without saying anything, all her savings are gone, even the house she leaves in isn’t hers anymore. Basically her life as she knew it isn’t what it was and she has no idea how.

One day she meets a young lawyer, Jeff played by Carruth himself, on train. Jeff takes a liking to her the very first time they meet and even though Kris in completely unresponsive initially, keeps coming after her for a while. She lets her defenses down eventually and two of them start spending a lot of time together. As we get to know him better, we realize that even Jeff has fair share of his own problems. Even though he does a good job of hiding it, he is just as broken inside as Kris is. Rest of the film is about fighting their demons and if possible, getting to a solution, to the closure. If you have read someone say that this is one movie that everyone should experience for themselves, they are absolutely right. For that reason, I want to say as little of the plot as I can but at the same I think that I can give you as much as possible of the plot and for the exact same reason you would still find many things of your own when you would sit down for it. If you think I have given a lot of plot details here, I assure you there is much more that happens on screen for you to see and more importantly, to feel.

I have been watching The Story of Film: An Odyssey(2011) on Netflix over the last week. I still haven’t finished it but I am almost done. If you have seen it, you would know that narrator Mark Cousins talks continuously about films that tried to work beyond the boundaries of the medium in it. I am sure that Mark Cousins would love this film because I think this is the farthest you can get from conventional cinema without rejecting the format completely; something he loves dearly. It uses hand-held camera which reflects a lot of movements and majority of the film is shot in close-up. It uses deep focus, weird camera angles, harsh lighting and very few dialogues. There is rather more emphasis on the various sounds you hear in the background than dialogue. In lot of places story moves forward without using any dialogues and when there are dialogues, they are usually delivered very flat and you don’t always see the person talking on 

At various points, there are sequences that you don’t understand exactly or don’t really get the point of. Like just after Jeff and Kris meet, we see both Jeff and Kris behaving like they are still under spell and at the same time their perpetrator is recording some of his weird sound bites or what I think of as Groundhog Day(1993) memorial sequence of some couple going over the same fight again and again. I don’t think that any of these sequences were necessary because quite frankly I have no idea what was it for except [SPOILER ALERT] telling us that there were others like Kris[SPOILER END]. But I just went with it hoping that it would pay off some time later because it looked intriguing and helped in making the film more mysterious, not that it needed any.

I still haven’t understood a lot of things about this movie, most importantly last 5 minutes of this movie. I don’t know what exactly was the perpetrator doing? Why was he doing whatever he was doing? I didn’t understand where the name of the movie comes from though I am guessing it has something to do with those flowers they find in the stream. But… but I am neither disappointed nor annoyed by the ambiguous ending (Can I call it ambiguous even if it’s just because I did not understand it?). I am rather intrigued by it which to me is a success of the film – not alienating your viewer. I would be willing to give it few more chances and see if I can get few things more next time.

Upstream Colour does not follow most of the conventions, neither does it spoon feeds the viewer about its mystery and it’s very open about it. If you have seen Primer, you know that you’ll have to see this film multiple times and even then you may not understand it completely and Carruth doesn’t try to sugar-coat that either. However despite everything, I still believe it is an experience worth sitting through. Just keep your patience, try to understand as much as you can and who knows? It just might pay off!

Rating(out of 5):


  1. Some might say Primer is a subtly brilliant and profound work of sci-fi. I found it inanely understated.

    1. I have seen a whole range of opinions about Primer but I will see it first before saying anything about it.

      Thanks for stopping by, Andrea.

  2. I loved Primer, but I was slightly disappointed with this film. Some sequences were amazing, and others were confusing or felt unnecessary, as you mentioned. I'll definitely rewatch it at some point, though.

    1. Well, to tell you the truth there were a lot of confusing sequences. But maybe because I haven't seen Primer, this was first-hand experience for me and I liked it more.

      Thanks Josh! I will check Primer out very soon.

  3. I definitely understand your confusion by certain sequences of the movie. I'm not entirely sure it's a film that can be fully understood with one viewing (or two, or three...) Either way, it is by far my favorite film of 2013 (so far). In no way conventional, and made completely outside of the studio system... I just love that.

    1. Agree with everything you just said, including being the favourite movie of the year so far.


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