“Upstream Color”: Life Inside an Ageless Organism

Early on in Upstream Color, a woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) sits at a computer and works on a CGI rendering of some impossible creature for a movie we'll never see. It feels like a message from director Shane Carruth: This will not be an effects-laden fantasy movie, but rather the kind of brain-twisting sci-fi movie you'd hope for from the director of Primer. But where that deeply intellectual film used ample dialogue and voiceover narration to help the audience stay more or less grounded in its twisty timelines, the far more emotional Upstream Color is frequently word-free, trusting the audience to parse cinema's native languages of image, montage, and sound as Kris and her boyfriend Jeff (Carruth) try to make sense of past and present traumas. And while the cinematography is gorgeous and the editing is sharp, the key to the film is its sound design, personified by a mysterious field recordist (Andrew Sensenig) who may or may not be the puppet-master of Kris and Jeff (but definitely is to a sty of pigs). What Upstream Color is even about is up to the individual, and its opacity will surely enrage as many viewers as it will enchant. But we expect nothing less from Carruth.

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