Upstream Color movie poster
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Upstream Color movie poster

Upstream Color Movie Review

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I don't know what Upstream Color is about. You don't either. The difference: I've seen the movie. There is a woman and there is a thief. There is a maggot that people inhale that does stuff to them. There is a pig farm. And a pig farmer. And pigs. I've got that much down.

Here's the official synopsis: "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 wrecked lives."

Um, yeah, thanks Mr. Official Synopsis. For. Being. Utterly. Useless.

Upstream Color is directed by Shane Carruth, best known for a little film called Primer that is one of the most incredible time travel thrillers ever made. I thought Primer was confusing as hell, but Carruth must have been sitting around one day reading blogs and realized that people have actually figured Primer out. More or less.

Damn, he said. Well, I give you f**king Upstream Color.

The movie can best be described as a Terrence Malick film on crack. It's beautiful, haunting, alluring and superbly directed. But unlike a Malick film - let's use The Tree of Life for example because it so out there that few average moviegoers even dared to try, let alone like, it even though it was a great movie - his movies make sense. Upstream Color is so maddeningly vague that I am pretty certain that even on repeat viewings I will still have no idea what the purpose of the movie is.

Now, I've spoken to other critics and read their reviews (not for their opinion, but to see if others had cracked the puzzle that Carruth so elaborately draws), and they seem to love it. Why? Because it's beautiful, haunting, alluring and superbly directed. The acting is good, the cinematography and editing amazing, and because of Primer, I am pretty convinced that Upstream Color does indeed makes sense, even if Carruth is the only person who could translate its meaning.

I'm a simple guy, but I also like being confused. To a point. I liked Mulholland Drive, dammit. I loved Primer. But I also like being able to at least grasp what is going on, or what the purpose of the film is. I don't need to understand, but I need to comprehend. Upstream Color is an art house film to the umpteenth degree and serves nothing up easily, if at all. As a result, I didn't enjoy Upstream Color and neither will you.

Except...

Dammit.

Upstream Color is engaging. It does suck you in, even if only you watch attentively with hopes of figuring it out. It is wonderfully directed; there is no denying Carruth's talent. More than anything, long after I've seen this film I am going to be debating and discussing it with friends - at least my critic friends who will like it because it's beautiful, haunting, alluring and superbly directed. That is success by every definition, especially for a movie like this.

But I don't know what Upstream Color is about, and that bothers me.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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