‘Most critics couldn’t stop talking about it’ (Keith Kimbell, Metacritic).
The now Sundance Festival’s favourite, Shane Carruth, came in 2013 with his second major film titled ‘Upstream Colour’, a film to rival his brain-wrecking ‘masterpiece’ – ‘Primer’ (2004). Revered by critics worldwide, Upstream Colour’ starts off with a thief who kidnaps a woman and drugs her into a game of manipulation to relieve her of her possessions. From then on we see the unfolding of probably some of the most confusing and perplexing events on screen in years. The audience is confronted with such deep philosophical/psychological, biologically-themed topics as the essence of nature, cycle of life, free will/determinism, etc. This existential feel is present throughout the film’s 96 minutes’ duration.
All this applaudable, but the film’s main weakness is that the underlying idea of it, which remains hidden, is too complex and difficult for an average viewer to guess or workout, and even Sherlocks out there may find it hard to understand everything that is happening on screen, even when the film has ended. Little help is provided by a sporadic dialogue. It would have been better to include some extraneous clues to the plot, because these would have made the film more engaging and interesting, and its narrative less messy and ’empty’. The failure to do so is unfortunate as the film is very original; the aesthetic beauty of its shots has been compared to the artwork of Terrence Malick, and it also contains very interesting camerawork. The sound design is also remarkable, reminding of Aronofsky’s ingenuity in ‘Requiem for a Dream’ (2000). This is why when you finally do disentangle the logic behind the film’s events, the film becomes a truly rewarding experience and you really start to ‘enjoy’ it then and there. Therefore, repeated viewing is advisable.
Overall, although bound to confuse, ‘Upstream Colour’ is also a brave, stylish, thought-provoking, emotive, strangely raw and honest piece of an American experimental cinema, and should really be considered as one of the best and certainly most admirable attempts in its genre. 7/10