Upstream Color is one of those films to which you need to give your undivided attention. This was also the case with Shane Carruth's breakout feature film, Primer (2004). Carruth packs a lot of information into fast-moving shots with little dialogue or plot; and even if you do try your best to soak it all in, it can still be difficult to grasp. The film begins with a mysterious individual who seems to have found use of a certain worm living in the soil of his garden. He experiments with the worm as a parasite, slipping the insect onto a woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz). The parasite strips Kris of independent thought and, before she knows it, the mysterious individual has conditioned her into forking over her money through the equity of her home. A series of strange events then unfold. Kris meets a man on the train named Jeff (Shane Carruth), who she seems to share a biological connection with. He may have also been experimented on. Their strange affair turns suddenly serious and Carruth begins to delve deep into the films many themes.
From disease to the power of solitude, Carruth's vision is heavily filtered through the work of David Thoreau's "Walden," which is constantly shown and quoted. Ultimately, the film feels like a social experiment and a voyage of spiritual discovery that never really connects you to the characters, but rather keeps you distanced and clinical in speculation. Carruth's usage of blues, grays and whites, along with constantly lingering on the verge of overexposure, does a good job of supporting that theme quite powerfully.
Upstream may not be a film for everyone to enjoy; but it can be compelling to a good many, leaving its images ingrained in your mind long after viewing. It's intriguing. It's bewildering. It's thought provoking. One of its more basic themes of human connection may get you wondering if there's another person out there, going through the same exact movements as you, somehow bound to you just as they are to everything in nature.
The film is currently streaming on Netflix Instant. Be sure to add it to your queue if it sounds like your kind of movie.
Review by Ryan Kramer