“Upstream Color” – Don’t Miss It

Upstream Color, the new film written by, directed by, scored by, starring, sliced and diced by, shaken and stirred by, danced by, implanted by, effed-up by, and birthed by Shane Carruth is… well, wait, let’s just stop right there for a moment.

America, we have a filmmaker. In the most comprehensive sense of the word.

While the credits tell you Carruth plays the male lead — a troubled divorcé named Jeff — I’m tempted to guess that Amy Seimetz is just an alias, and Carruth plays the female lead as well. Why not? He seems to have downloaded this film directly from his wild imagination.

Yes, this is the guy who wrote and directed that mind-bending yet utterly satisfying 2004 time-travel thriller called Primer. Which, by the way, seems as simplistic as an episode of Lost by comparison.

But don’t let that dissuade you from buying a ticket. It’s as visually dazzling, if not moreso, than Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, and charged with a sense of the unpredictable and the inspired. This is your chance to witness the arrival of what is sure to become a cult classic, a film influenced by great art films that will probably become powerfully influential in its own ways in time. 

I’ll write a full review of Upstream Color in time. But it will take time. Consider this just a first-impression burst of enthusiasm. Believe me, you don’t want reviews to explain this movie to you before you see it.

So, a few more fumbling attempts to describe it without spoiling it…

Imagine if Terrence Malick made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but he made his characters so mentally compromised that the audience will never be sure which strands of the story are actually happening, which ones are straight metaphor, which are dreamed, which are hallucinated, or which are happening on some spiritual-warfare level.

Imagine he disallowed himself any use of interior monologues.

Imagine that he played Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and Pi while he slept every night for a year, then did the same with Tarkovsky’s The Mirror and Stalker for another year.

Imagine that he drew a lot of ideas from Radiohead songs: “Fitter, Happier” and “Where I End and You Begin” and stuff from the album Hail to the Thief.

Imagine he set about a third of the movie on a pig farm.

Okay, now we’ve scratched the surface of this movie, which is as original and invigorating as anything currently in theaters. It rates up there with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Mulholland Drive in terms of challenging and baffling as much as it entertains.

You may not make much sense of the plot the first, or even the fifth, time through. But you’ll never forget it.

And if you start making connections — poetic connections or practical connections — you’ll probably go on making them until you arrive at your own unique interpretation. That’s an experience I’m always hoping for at the movies… the sense that this is a living thing, an alien life form, challenging but not incomprehensible, and that it will eventually come to you if you’re patient and observant and dedicated to the task. It doesn’t mean “whatever we want it to mean,” but it does need a whole community of observers bringing their perspectives to the table.

If you’re lucky enough to find it in a theater this weekend, go see it.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Jeremy Landes

    Just recently psyched myself up to see it a second time and enjoyed it more, understanding a little more this time. Would like to see your review. I wrote one for christianspotlight.net

  • http://www.sarazarr.com Sara Z.

    “like”

  • Benny Pendentes

    “It doesn’t mean “whatever we want it to mean,” but it does need a whole community of observers bringing their perspectives to the table.”

    THANK YOU. Like Donnie Darko, The Prestige, and, yes, Primer, Upstream Color is a film that seems to get 5 stars or 0 stars, with nothing in between. It would be a gross oversimplification to say that the 0-star people simply didn’t ‘get’ it, but watch Twitter for #upstreamcolor and it’s clear that they tend to be the people who have that post-modern “it means what you want it to mean” interpretation. People can hate this film, that’s fine and even expected – it’s not going to appeal to everyone, or even a majority. But “it means whatever we want it to mean” is the worst kind of cop-out, especially when the film is talking about something fundamental in people and nature that goes beyond (and pre-exists?) words.

    Mulholland Drive was one of the films that was mentioned in the after-film conversation last night. Also: Prometheus, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Matrix, Dark City, and the Lucifer comic books. But there are good cases for or against the ability of any of those films to shed light on this one… taking Upstream Color on its own, and not trying to force it into a box that we do understand, might be an option. (And since the film is partly – perhaps even largely – concerned with just that, it might be the best option.)

  • http://writingbydfault.blogspot.com/ Dan

    That seals it. I need to see this. I’ve been excited about it since I heard of it, but that seals it.

  • Josh

    I was so enthralled with this film and haven’t stopped thinking about, puzzling things out in moments of reflection or downtime. I can’t wait to see it again. I also haven’t stopped listening to the soundtrack. Thanks for giving it an enticing and yet mysterious shout out. Love the comparison to 2001 and Mullholland Drive. Very apt


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