Writer: Shane Carruth
Cast: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig
A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of their wrecked lives.
It is another audio-visual mindfuck from Shane Carruth who has a lots of fans among those who love independent films after his debut feature 'Primer'. It took him nine long years to come out with his second feature film and during the interim he shelved the idea of making the sci-fi film 'Topiary' for which he had invested considerable amount of time. It is considered as one of the greatest films that was never made by those who have read the script and Steven Soderbergh is a fan. It is a great shame that it is not getting made because of financing issues and just $15 million is all that is required. Some of the footage from Topiary is used in Upstream Color and can be seen when Kris (Amy Seimetz) is seen working on her computer.
To get into plot details, the film starts with someone experimenting with the parasite and some kids drinking a liquid that is influenced by the presence of this parasite. They seemingly acquire Matrix like agility, at least temporarily. Then the character 'Thief' abducts Kris after introducing the parasite into her body system. He uses some kind of hypnosis technique on her and improves her memory power by making her remember the whole of Henry David Thoreau's 'Walden'. He steals all her money by making her cash out on her home equity and leaves her with no recollection of what really happened. The parasite grows inside her body and she cuts herself up in an effort to get them out. She eventually ends up meeting an audio sampler. He performs a surgery on her and extracts the parasite from her body and introduces it into the body of a pig which he puts up in a pig farm along with many other pigs all of which had previously undergone this ordeal. Kris wakes up in her car parked in a highway, again with no recollection of her ordeal. As she struggles with the after effects, she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth) who also had a similar experience and they fall in love. They move in together but are facing identity crisis because of the memory loss. It is shown that what is happening in their lives and the life of sampler and their respective pigs are interconnected through sounds as well as experience. The characters are constantly shown with their hands feeling things and taking in the sounds. Kris suspects that she is pregnant and when she consults her doctor she learns that she had recovered from stage two endocrine cancer and she is incapable of giving birth to a baby after the damages in her systems due to the surgery of which she has no memory. The sampler is seen taking some baby pigs in a sack and throws them off into a river. The parasite which has transformed further is seen getting introduced into nearby orchids from the pigs. Kris eventually kills the sampler and get details about all the people who had the same experience from the pig farm. They revamp the pig farm and are seemingly at peace even though she killed the man who saved her about which we the audience have the knowledge.
I saw the film about a year back and didn't understand much of it. 'Walden' is a recurring subject in this film and before I watched the film again this time, I read about it in its wiki page. I think I will have to read the whole fucking book before watching 'Upstream Color' for a third time. But I really doubt that the themes handled in the book has got much to do with getting an understanding about the film. Shane Carruth himself said when asked that don't try too much to get a message out of the film and it is essentially about the breaking of cycles, whatever the fuck that he means.
Walden is supposed to be a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings. Thoreau was a noted transcendentalist and Transcendentalism is a religious and philosophical movement from the 180s and 1830s with heavy influence from Hindu texts like Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. Self reliance is a major theme in this category of philosophy, both economically and spiritually. They contest that an individual is pure without the corrupt influence of society and its institutions. It sounds very much like an overly idealistic philosophy without much consideration about the selfish natre of our evolutionary path.
To sum up 'Upstream Color' is a surreal audio-visual masterpiece in the Terence Malickian mode. Many will find it pretentious but it will most certainly affect you even though you won't have much clue about what the director is conveying if at all he is doing that actually. Just let it wash over you.