WARNING: Before we get into it, I have to say that there is mad gross stuff in “Upstream Color” involving self-inflicted bodily harm, creepy crawly bugs, and mean stuff happening to cute animals. If you are sensitive to some of that stuff like I am, you’re going to have to skip through a couple scenes. It’s really only one or two little bits in the film, but it’s nasty stuff.
Having said that, “Upstream Color” is a fun intellectual exercise. That’s not to say the movie itself is fun, “Upstream Color” is filled with self doubt, regret, and some crazy disturbing imagery. What I mean is that this is a fun movie to dissect, to analyze, and to argue about on internet message boards. Since it’s from the same guy who did “Primer,” it’s no surprise that this film is a little out there, with a bizarre narrative structure and overall otherworldly feel, but too it’s credit this isn’t a movie that feels “weird for the sake of being weird.” All the bizarre little moments all serve to communicate a larger message helped by an excellent musical score. I recommend this to anyone who unironically enjoys talking about “symbolism” and junk.
“Upstream Color” has a hard plot to pin down, not because it’s super complicated, but because the narrative is presented so… disjointedly. Putting it together on your own is part of the fun of it. Suffice it to say, a thief jacks up a woman’s brain with bug juice putting her in a hypnotic state of suggestibility, which the thief to steal all her savings. This event then echoes into her later life and later relationships. Then pigs happen. It’s weird.
“I was born with a disfigurement where my head is made of the same material as the sun.”
One of my favorite elements here is just how it all comes together so effortlessly. This is a movie that, as I mentioned before, could easily get so into the surreal imagery that it loses sight of actually communicating the message it intended. While the movie may seem to be just throwing in random junk, once you stop to think about it a little bit you’ll be all like “huh? ahh? ehh? ahhh!” and you’ll realize it’s all been tying together the whole time. “Upstream Color” is a film that demands multiple viewings, and discussion sessions in film classes. This is the kind of movie where I could spend the entire review just talking about my own (super smart) interpretation of the events, but I’ll leave that to someone with a higher word count.
Another thing I enjoyed is the absolutely eerie music. There is not a lot of dialogue in this film, and large stretches are left with only the music being heard. This is a good call since the score here is excellent at communicating a mysterious, vaguely unsettling atmosphere. It’s kind of like an old silent film, where the music has to serve as dialogue.
The main issue I have with the structure is how it deals with time and place. This film covers two different time frames in the main character Kris’ (Amy Seimetz) life, pre-robbery and post-robbery, and it kind of gets difficult to distinguish one time frame from the other. The entire narrative is presented in such a disjointed way, that it’s hard to tell whether you are in the past, the future, or if it’s a flashback, or what. The main indicator of which time period you are in is the length of Kris’ hair, and until I figured that out I found myself confused as to where I was in the film chronologically.
“Upstream Color” isn’t going to be for everyone, if you want something that is constructed to entertain you and be all “coherent” and junk, you might want to look elsewhere. If you’re the type of person who likes to deconstruct a film and generate your own unique interpretation, “Upstream Color” is for you. This film is like a peice of Ikea furniture: it gives you everything you need to understand it, but you have to put the pieces together on your own. That was really clever, right?