Upstream Color

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Directed by Shane Carruth

I did not like this film. The end.

Still here?

Fine, I’ll elaborate, you got me.

Carruth’s debut film “Primer” is one I hold dear. It is a film that inspires me on all fronts. I enjoyed the flat colored 16mm look, loved the intellectual dialogue that is fearless in it’s complexity and scientific language despite alienating the majority of its audience, and I was fascinated by a tangled plot that becomes more disorienting as it goes on, demanding that the viewer succumb to this convoluted world of loops within loops and be just as lost as the characters within them.

This film only carries over the latter aspect and its simply not enough to carry me through this tedious mess of a film.

The structure of this film is the most obvious area of experimentation. The usage of discontinuous editing is constant and makes this film feel less like a new age independent film than a remnant of the American New Wave era, the disorienting and constant shifts in time and space, reality and unreality reminds one of films like “A Safe Place”, a film that also left me somewhat cold.

However, unlike Jaglom’s film, this one seems to be far more literal minded. Whereas “Primer” came by it’s convolution naturally, as a byproduct of its narrative, this film maintains this style regardless of whether it feels a natural fit. Many films would use this style to simulate a drug addled mindset or other types of losses in lucidity, and while that is present here, it is an oppressive force that carries throughout the entire film, isolating the audience from ever connecting with the characters or the events in the film.

The films of Malick and Wong have carried over this style marvelously and use it to hammer home philosophical and spiritual points. Perhaps this style simply lends itself to this type of film making more or perhaps they are just better film makers (they are). Either way, this feels far more like convolution for convolution’s sake. This film is a 1000 piece puzzle strewn about and it neither has the visual virtuosity or lyrical atmosphere to make me care to assemble it.

That is not to say that there aren’t things to appreciate. I think it tells its story (when it’s actually telling it and not pointlessly jump cutting every few seconds while someone walks around, drives a car, and walks around some more while muttering something) very well with visuals. Select the black box below with your cursor to view the spoiler text

The revelation that the man had gone through the same thing the woman had (abduction, forced to give up valuables, surgery) being revealed almost entirely from a single shot of their ankles was a great touch.

and it does seem to have a pretty interesting tale to tell. It’s just hidden in a poorly edited maze.

I say poorly edited because there really is very little rhythm to the editing. Something like “Man with a Movie Camera” can succeed simply because of ingenious editing that juxtaposes images cleverly yet this film, when it dares to actually attempt such a feat (which is rare), it’s clumsy and once again, all too literal. A bag of piglets drowning while the girl swims. But what is it saying? Nothing much.

There is a bit of subtext within the film. It seems to tap on several threads of the circular dynamic of life, the deprivation of motherhood, and the danger of inhuman experimentation on animals and humans alike. But even with these ideas bobbing in the water, it’s structure doesn’t give us the tools to pluck anything out, or at least deprives us of any profundity. With the final image of the film, I could tell I was supposed to feel something, yet all I felt was elation that the tedium would end.

Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for this movie. It’s highly possible I’m being too hard on it or missed something. Unlike “Holy Mountain”, which was overwhelming to the point of exhaustion, my zoning out in this film set in about halfway through because I kept waiting for something to grab me and pull me in. It never did.

Also, the acting was subpar.

So… Yeah… Pretty disappointed. I wouldn’t recommend it but I also wouldn’t dissuade anyone from seeing it. It seems like a movie that will definitely work for some but for others like myself, not so much. Here’s hoping he’s got another “Primer” in there somewhere.

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