“Upstream Color” Mini-Review

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Upstream Colour (2013)

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

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13 thoughts on ““Upstream Color” Mini-Review

  1. Didn’t like Primer all that much, but I have to say, Carruth surprised me here. It was an emotional story done quite well, even if it didn’t always make perfect sense. Then again, that was probably the point. Good review.

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    1. Thanks! I am used to watching films which do not make perfect sense, but for me in this film there was just one confusion too many. It is easy to comment on the film’s brilliance when you finally know how different events connect in the film, but it does appear totally nonsensical at certain points when you watch it for the first time, and I just wished the director made it slightly easier to understand. I am certainly looking forward to his future film projects, they are bound to be exciting.

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    1. This film has a lot going for it, so I hope it won’t disappoint, but you have to be quite patient when watching it, and I don’t think I was very, at least not at the beginning!

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  2. Honestly, I thought the plot made perfect sense. There was never a point at which I was guessing on screen events. Which is probably why I like this one a bit more than you.

    I think it is the best experimental film I saw in 2013, by a wide margin.

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  3. As a self described and proud lynch fan who also enjoys the films of jordoworsky and cronenberg, I actually find carruths films less confusing. This in particular was a puzzle but one surrounded in beautiful cinematography, sound design, and acting. Its a puzzle I’d be willing to try to solve over and over again even if I don’t find an answer

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  4. Oh I loved this film. It even found its way on my Top 10 from last year. I’ve had a review written for ages that I still haven’t posted. For me my second viewing is what really sold me on it.

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    1. Yes, exactly the same situation here – on the second viewing for me too. That’s where I think you start to connect all the dots and appreciate the ‘brilliant’ logic of it all.

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  5. Great review, you have picked up on some of the things that made the film interesting. For me the esoteric and ambiguous plot and meaning made the film stronger than if it had all been mapped out for the viewer. Its nice to see a filmmaker who doesn’t assume his audience are idiots. I just hope he doesn’t make us wait nine years between movie again.

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