Chandler, Arizona, United States

There's an old saying. If you don't want someone to join a crowd, you ask them, "If everyone were jumping off of a cliff, would you?" Well, I have. So my answer would be "Yes". True story.
Profile continued . . .

Review of Upstream Color

Saturday, March 22, 2014

this entry brought to you by nine inch nails, "copy of a"

Ordinarily I don't like describing plots when I write reviews other than a one or two sentence summary, but here it seems necessary. There is a drug dealer that has a pill, and inside this pill is a worm. The drug dealer then tazes and kidnaps a woman named Kris (played by Amy Seimetz), and gives her the pill by force. The worm in the pill, it turns out, causes the woman to be incredibly influenced by the power of suggestion, and the drug dealer, staying in her home, proceeds to distract her mind by forcing her into doing repetitive tasks. Over the course of several days as she starves and and is busied by writing down passages from Walden verbatim, she is coerced into removing all of her money from her bank accounts and giving it to the dealer.

All of this sounds much more horrific than the movie portrays it, directed with distance and detail-oriented purpose, a sort of weird, hazy, obsessive compulsive drug trip where you are simultaneously disturbed but trying to grasp at the meaning of what you're seeing.

When Kris meets a man, Jeff (played by the director, Shane Carruth) who is unaware that the same thing has happened to him, the movie reveals itself to be a metaphor on the complexities and rockiness of relationships. Sometimes we are attracted to someone and don't know why. Sometimes we are bad for one another. Sometimes, we choose people that have issues and problems that would be deal breakers, that would frighten us away if we weren't flawed and broken ourselves.

Along the way we also spend time with a mysterious introvert known only as the Sampler who plays a key position in the whole worm-mind control plot, although exactly what he's doing is never explained. He is a lonely, curious figure, living vicariously through people, watching them from a distance and making up a life for them in his mind, hoping to learn what makes people tick, apparently unable to experience relationships on his own.

My problem after the credits rolled was why trying to figure out why Carruth (who directed Primer, a movie I've heard a lot about, but after seeing this, I'm that much more curious) chose this particular story to tell this metaphor. Relationships are a complicated thing, and while I would describe Upstream Color as beautiful, the story it's telling about relationships is messy, frightening, and unhappy. Yet it seems like there should be a less convoluted way to say the things that it wants to say in a way that is no less unconventional. It is directed in a detached, dream like state, but seems focused on the details being grounded in reality. Carruth appears to want to make a David Lynch movie, but the script he wrote is more Charlie Kaufman without any of the whimsy.

But as the days followed after having seen it, my mind kept coming back to Upstream Color. The way Seimetz's performance was the opposite of a manic pixie dream girl, a closed off, temperamental and unfriendly woman, like an abuse victim, and even when she opens up a little we still only see her soft side a briefly before she gets closed off again, paranoid of the world around her. The way Carruth was a broken man, not exactly trying to fix her, but willing to put up with her sometimes nonsensical freak outs because he understands her, because he relates with her in a way no one else can. I never got the answer to my question, why this approach? And while my own relationship with my wife isn't like theirs, I could still relate.

Upstream Color is a peculiar movie, and one could say that its metaphors are reaching when they didn't have to. It's strange that the movie relates people finding one another to pigs on a farm. The extended dream segments of the Sampler trying to vicariously connect to people can be baffling. I found myself frustrated that the movie was not either a Terrence Malik movie with no narrative whatever, nor a more concrete film; it straddled this weird in between. But it is beautiful, and effective where it matters most.

with love from CRS @ 11:17 AM 


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