Upstream Color
By Samantha Curley With on February 07, 2013

Upstream Color is the second film by director Shane Carruth. Carruth’s first film, Primer, took Sundance by storm in 2004 winning the Grand Jury Prize and stunning audiences with its complex, scientific plot-line about time travel. Not only did Carruth write, direct, produce, and star in Primer, he did the entire movie for a mere $8,000. After it was released to DVD, it became a cult-classic film - one that begs for multiple re-viewings. So when it was announced that after ten years of obscurity, Carruth was back at Sundance this year, the indy film industry was buzzing with all kinds of hype. In Upstream Color, Shane Carruth continues with his obsessive control over the creative filmmaking process. He writes, directs, produces, and stars in this film. He also wrote the original score for it and is even planning on distributing the film himself. And despite the craziness, skepticism, and hype I felt going into the film - or maybe because of these things - I loved Upstream Color! It is a film that reminds me that the wrong question when interpreting any form of artistic expression is, “What is this really about?” Because after you see this film you will not be able to answer that question, I promise. Suffice it to say that a pig farm, exotic plants, blood transfusions, memory loss, and Thoroeu’s Walden all play central roles in the plot. The feel of the theater after the film’s screening at Sundance captured this interesting tension. As Shane stood on stage for the Q&A there was the palpable sense that no one knew exactly what to ask, or how to ask the question we were all wondering: “What the heck just happened?” Upstream Color is a confusing, masterfully crafted piece of narrative in which analysis and deconstruction would short change the experience and meaning of the story. Knowing and identifying certain motifs can help in the appreciation of the film (for example, it’s about how we form and live out of our identities), but we can become so obsessed with understanding that we miss the artistic, narrative experience itself. Difficult films such as Upstream Color (and Primer for that matter) have a lot to teach us about reading and interpreting narrative; about not watching to “get it” but watching to “enter in” and be captured by the story. Practicing this kind of seeing, being disciplined by movies like Carruth’s, I believe we may find ourselves becoming better humans. At the very least we’ll become better interpreters of narrative art.

About the Author: Samantha Curley
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