Upstream Color (2013)

In essence, humans are pigs. Doesn’t cut any deeper than that.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) is out-and-about one night, when all of a sudden, she’s drugged, kidnapped, hypnotized, robbed, and left astray in the middle of the highway without any prior knowledge of knowing what the hell happened to her, why, from whom, and where they have gone. As one could expect, this leaves Kris as damaged-goods, and has her practically sleep-walking through life as if she will never know what happened to her, and will always feel strange about it. That is, until she meets a guy named Jeff (Shane Carruth) on the train. They share an intimate connection together that may, or may not stem from the fact that he went through the exact same mysterious occurrence as her, but it also may be from something else a lot deeper than either of them could imagine. Does this have to do with nature? Flowers? Some other human-being out there in the world acting as the sorcerer in all of this? Or does it have to do with pigs?

Yup, you heard me correctly: Pigs.

To start this review off, I know that I have to be honest with you, as I usually am. For starters, I was not looking forward to watching this bad-boy as I for one, saw Shane Carruth’s directorial-debut, Primer, and if you haven’t seen by now, I’ll just clarify that I was not a fan of that one. The problem that I had with that movie did stem a bit from all of the hype and talk surrounding it, but most of it just came from the fact that it felt like Carruth was giving us a puzzle we had to figure out for ourselves, and nothing else. I’ll give him credit where credit is due and call him nice things such as “ambitious”, or “smart”, or “wise”, but the style only worked on me for so long, that is until I realized that maybe this is just a movie I’ll never get, and/or, one that I’ll just never be a fan of. And hey, that’s fine. That’s the beautiful thing about movies: You can always view them with a subjective mind, which makes it easier for one film to be loved by one person, and loathed by the next.

Reminds me of what I'll be doing once the zombie apocalypse begins. And yes, IT WILL HAPPEN!!
Reminds me of what I’ll be doing once the zombie apocalypse begins. And yes, IT WILL HAPPEN!!

However, this review is simply for Upstream Color, and only that. But the reason why I bring up my feelings about Carruth’s first flick is because while I appreciated what he did and what he brought to the table with such a small-budget, I still didn’t like the formula in which the film was shown or built. That’s what separates that movie from this, because while they are both confusing and able to mess with our minds, there actually feels like there’s a story located in the center here, and it’s a very heartfelt, emotional and somewhat beautiful one that makes all of the craziness surrounding it become deaf to your ears. Because essentially, this is less of a movie about our human-existence, and more about these two who find one another, connect in ways they never expected to connect with a fellow human-being and above all, fall in love and search the world for the everlasting happiness we all strive for.

I know this all sounds very odd of me, as if I saw this movie while it “my time of the month”, but I’m serious: Something between me and this movie just clicked. Carruth definitely put a spell on me (how fitting) in ways that he was able to coax me into forgetting all about the confusing plot, or the visuals, or everything else for that matter, and just pay attention to what he has on display and what’s the center of it all. For that, I give the dude major credit because although he did throw some curve balls here and there that got the eyebrows movin’ up, there was still a feel deep inside of me that gave me the feeling I wouldn’t be left behind with this story and its overall connection.

Now, it’s not like Carruth dumbs his material down, neither; it’s more just that he held my hand long enough to where I felt like I understood where he was going with this story, and why it all mattered to us. It’s a science-fiction movie, but not like the ones we see with aliens, lasers, or talking, killer-robots; it’s a science-fiction that uses the idea of science to further add drama and emotion to a story that didn’t seem like it needed much to begin with, yet, totally benefits because of it. You never quite know where this story is going to go, or even how it’s going to end whether it be sad, happy, or so painfully ambiguous, that it could literally be left somewhere up in the air, for all who see it decipher and make up their own minds as to what the hell it actually means. And that just took me along for a ride that never let me go, no matter how many times I thought it almost lost me, both in terms of emotions and my actual thought-process.

But, as you can see, I’ve been going on and on and on about the heart of this story, and still, I have yet to actually talk about Shane Carruth himself as a director, who, from what we saw of him last, has really upped his game as a visual-director. Seriously, some of the shots in this movie are so beautiful and so artistic, it’ll make you wonder just how he was able to capture the frame the way it was. Certain lighting will come into effect and give you this idea that you’re in a real world, with real people, and real consequences for their actions, but other times, you’ll feel as if you are in dream world where some things that happen are utterly, and totally unexplainable. And before I stand off my high-horse by acting like I know all about what Carruth was trying to do here, I just want to say that it seems like this was used on purpose, because any bit of this movie could have been a dream, or it could have been reality. You never know, and I think that’s the way Carruth likes it to be.

Same goes for the sound of this flick as well, which, surprisingly, goes hand-in-hand with what’s happening in the plot. I can’t say why sounds and noises go along with the movie and in ways, drives the plot, but the way Carruth structures them and how the play-out in the film, totally work as it sometimes places you into another surreal world, and may even make you feel as if you’re being a little entranced as well. Carruth really seemed like he took total advantage of his bigger budget here, and showed that he uses for the better aspects of his movie; such aspects like sound-design; like cinematography; like lighting; and even, believe it or not, like shooting-areas. Most of Primer made it feel like it was made for a dime-a-dozen and filmed in these dudes’ backyards (which it most likely was), but here, you actually feel like you’re apart of something bigger, and a lot more wider than just the world two people created for themselves; you feel like you’re placed inside of a story that’s taking place in the middle of the universe, with all sorts of craziness surrounding it.

Just goes to show you that even the smaller things in movies you don’t normally pay attention to, mean a whole lot more than you think. Nice job on Carruth’s part for actually taking notice of that, and in return, making me take notice of that as well.

However, if there is one thing I do have to take some credit away from Carruth and this movie, it’s that his acting hasn’t quite improved since the last time we saw him. While I feel like he was more in his comfort-zone spouting out scientific-jargon in Primer, here, as Jeff, something feels very off-tune about him. Maybe that’s the point since his character seems to be reeling from so much internal damage this one horrific accident caused him, but by the same token, you never get a full feel for this guy as to who he was, who he is now after what happened to him and just what he can do to help our sweet girl of the hour-and-a-half, Kris.

"We're more than just pieces of meat!" If they could talk, that's what I assumed they'd say.
“We’re more than just pieces of meat!” If they could talk, that’s what I assumed they’d say.

Speaking of whom, Kris is played perfectly by Amy Seimetz who seems like she’s going to have a long career ahead of herself if she continues to roll at the pace she’s going at. With a movie like this, Seimetz could have easily fallen by the waist-side and just let Carruth use his artistic-side run rampant all over the place, but that’s not what happens. Instead, Seimetz gives us a character that we don’t know much about prior to her accident, but we still somewhat care for once it all happens and she wakes up all confused and bewildered as to what the hell has been going on with her life these past couple of days. We can tell that she’s messed-up just by the look in her eyes and the way she carries herself from area-to-area, but we never know how bad it truly is for her, until we eventually find out the long-lasting circumstances bestowed onto her due to this accident.

There’s this one scene where she gets the harsh news, and rather than going all over-the-top with her reaction, we get a close-up on her face, mainly her eyes, where they remain stilted, as if she’s just trying to let it all sink in. And that’s when you see the one lonely tear run down her face. It’s heartbreaking to see because you know that she’s suffered so much pain and agony, that she just doesn’t have the time, nor the effort to be hurt anymore. She just faces the fact, and moves on. Beautiful scene and one of the most beautiful pieces of acting I’ve seen all year. You go girl!

And while I go on about this movie, there’s no doubt in my mind that it won’t work for everybody, much like Primer didn’t work for me, as well as plenty others. In terms of the logistics of its plot, this one feels like it will appeal more to the average film-goes because not only does it challenge you to think a bit more than your usual big-budget, studio-made pic, but it also gives you a reward for the time you spend thinking about it, getting involved and following along. Especially with that ending. Honestly, I can’t remember an ending I’ve seen from a movie this year that was this poignant, this life-affirming and this beautiful. While most of the movie may have been a mad shuffle of ideas that either didn’t pan-out to much, or just didn’t make much sense at all, the ending is what stays clear in my mind right now as I’m typing this, brought a tear to my eye, and assured me that yes, movies are another form of art, and they don’t get anymore inspired as this.

Consensus: Most likely not going to be everybody’s cup of Joe, Upstream Color is still, for the ones who can stick it out and keep a clear and open mind, a rewarding experience that breaths new life into a conventional story of romance between two sad people, and gives us the idea that we are watching something more powerful develop in front of our eyes that isn’t just about two people in particular, but us all. Or something like that.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

And birds have something to do with this, too. I think....
And birds have something to do with this, too. I think….

Photo’s Credit to:


  1. Yeah, this definitely wasn’t my cup of joe at all, heh. I didn’t hate this one like I typically do with a lot of movies that utilize this style of editing, but I’m still just not a fan of the style at all myself.

    • Yeah, I hear you. I didn’t think it was going to be my cup either, however, something changed within my system while I was watching it and I surprisingly really got involved.

  2. I wonder if this is as off-the-wall as Holy Motors. I don’t mind surreal (and mental) cinema once in a while so maybe I’ll check this out one of these days.

  3. I thought Upstream Color was gorgeous and intriguing, but also pretty frustrating. I did enjoy it more than Primer and liked it overall, so it’s hard to argue with the glowing reviews.

  4. You saw my review already, so you already know: I don’t blame Carruth the actor for Jeff’s bad development. I blame Carruth the writer, mostly. Still, I agree. Jeff is the weak link here.

    It’s interesting that you the attack on Kris as hypnosis, by the way. I very much see it as she was drugged, just like so many others before her, by some psychic altering worm that somehow produces a hypnosis like state. Perhaps that’s just another of the debates this film facilitates.

    Good review!

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