SXSW 2013: Capone embraces the lovely, ambiguous hues of UPSTREAM COLOR, the latest from writer-director Shane Carruth!!!
Published at: March 9, 2013, 2:24 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Austin at the SXSW Film Festival.
It's been nearly 10 years since writer-director Shane Carruth became the tiny pebble that sent giant influence rings across the great lake of cinema with his brain-bending time travel film PRIMER. And while that work took a few viewings to really understand all that was happening in it, the story was decipherable. His latest, UPSTREAM COLOR, is a little less so, although the plot at the core is fairly simple; it's the implications that's seem enormous and obtuse. I feel fairly certain Carruth wants his new effort to be a jumping off point--the film that launched a thousand conversations, if you will. Allow me to broach a few of them.
There's a woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) who is snatched by a ne'er do well, who puts a small worm-derived drug in her system that makes her do exactly what he says, including removing pretty much all the money she has in the bank and handing it over to him. As this process is unfolding, the worm inside Kris is growing inside her to the point where she can see it crawling around under her skin, and she tries to cut it out with a huge kitchen knife, unsuccessfully. She meets a pig farmer (called "The Sampler" in the credits and played by Andrew Sensenig), who somehow has the medical knowledge to remove the worm in the grossest way possible.
Not long after this traumatic incident, Kris meets Jeff (Carruth), and two fall in love. The only bizarre thing about Jeff is that he keeps telling her stories about his life that are actually stories about her life that he has absorbed into his own history. It's annoying, sure, but it's not like he cheats. Meanwhile, The Sampler seems to have the ability to listen in on people's most intimate moments by simply sitting right next to them without being seen. Those are the basic plot point, but really they're just a means to getting to some deep, dark topics, such as the fragile nature of love, the elements, faith and how those things all seek to control us…or do we let them do so?
Carruth has a real gift at making UPSTREAM COLOR incredibly watchable with intense, sometimes grotesque, imagery and hypnotic, tension-laden music It should come as no surprise the Carruth is his own cinematographer, co-editor (with David Lowery), and he scored the film. And he's a captivating actor who forms a perfect bond with Seimetz; both characters seem like damaged, but not broken, souls in need of what the other brings to their relationship.
Some people like their science fiction spelled out for them; I am not one of those people. Films that people are meant to discuss and debate after viewing (a key distinction, since the trend lately seems to be debating a film's merits before seeing it) are too few and far between to dismiss, and with just two films, Carruth has become something of a master of manufacturing such work. There are no right or wrong answers about UPSTREAM COLOR's meaning.
I feel confident that its maker's primary purpose was to create a love story, one that has the ability to heal powerfully. But then there's all that other strange and wonderful stuff that surrounds our young lovers; and it's in those moments that Carruth makes his mark and soars. And this isn't a work about two people happy and smiling in love; it's about two people so much in love that it scares them and causes deep anxiety and mental anguish. God, I miss college. I've seen some pretty great films this year so far, but this is the best so far. But there's a lot more SXSW to go…