As I was leaving the theatre after seeing Upstream Color, I heard a couple behind me talking about the movie. One partner said, “I’m not sure I got it, but I liked it, I think.” The other partner said, “I think I got it… maybe.” In my head, I said, “What’s to get?”
That was my initial response to the film. I decided not to write this review straight away, but to give it a couple days to sink in.
Normally, after a movie, I like to talk about it with my movie companions. The night I saw Upstream Color, however, due to a couple of twists of fate (mostly involving illness and a pre-purchased ticket), I was alone. I had nobody to talk to about the movie. So instead I read some reviews (here, here, and here).
Most were pretty glowing. Words like “transcendant”, “emotional language”, and “non-linear” were thrown about. References were made to Terrence Mallick, moebius strips, and filmmaker Shane Carruth’s previous work, Primer. Critics claimed to enjoy the feeling of the film “washing over the senses”. Etcetera, etcetera, blah blah blah.
Then, I read one review that I really liked. The reviewer confessed to hating Upstream at first, feeling like there was nothing deeper about the movie to get, and despising it for being pretentious. And then, something marvellous happened. He watched it a second time. He still didn’t really “get” it, but at least discerned a navigable plot. And then he watched it AGAIN. And after the third viewing, the dude is a right ol’ Upstream Color disciple. He even offered to get together and talk about it over coffee with anyone who wanted to meet up.
I certainly have been thinking about Upstream a lot in the days since I saw it. It was, indeed, hypnotic. It did indeed wash over my senses. It was indeed Mallick-like in its beauty (and also Cronenberg-like in its weirdness and discomfort, as one reviewer pointed out). It was indeed like a moebius strip. It did feel like it was communicating to me emotionally. So, I went to see it again. And now, I can honestly say that I loved it.
Lookit, I don’t really want to tell you what Upstream Color is about, because I think that ruins it. The film is an experience, and I don’t want to impose on you what I think it is about. If you want to know the plotline, go read those other reviews. If you like the trailer, and you like the sound of a Mallick-esque, Cronenbergian, non-linear, emotional, sensory experience of a film, then go see it. If you don’t, and prefer simpler narrative structures, plotlines, and timelines, then don’t. (And, if you want to know exactly what Carruth intended, read his interviews here and here, but be warned that this will absolutely ruin your own experience of the movie if you haven’t seen it yet. Only read these if you have seen it and need to have the meaning spoonfed to you.)
I think the film achieves exactly what Carruth intended. It is a vehicle to connect on an emotional level with the viewer.
All possible points go to Amy Seimetz for her exhilarating, complex performance.