What confused most people about Upstream Color was the fact that Primer was at its core a cipher. A narrative that wraps itself snugly in its mysteries.
On the contrary, Upstream Color was simple on the narrative front.
It is, a sci-film, sort of. A nature film, sort of. A love story, too. It had worms—parasites, identity & will theft, pigs, ambient music, orchids and creation in various forms. It is poetic.
If that sounds pretentious, it isn’t pretentious. It is haunting, troubling and beautiful.
The film is about how the characters and we who identify with the characters are driven often by something beyond us. Inexplicable even. As a poster for the film declares, “You can force your story’s shape but the color will always bloom upstream.”
Question: What is the film about?
I watched Upstream Color with the expectation of finding something complex and scientifically dense.
The Thief. He has an organism that brainwashes the consumer turning the consumer into a puppet.
Kris ingests the organism which procreates. According to Carruth, there are documented parasites that burrow into the heads of insects and make them ‘behave’ in a suzerain relation. Then there is all the “Walden” on display. Walden is Thoreau’s document of two years of his life living in a cabin. Kris is forced to copy down the entire book by hand. Hypnotic trickery? As Kris’s memory returns to her, towards the end, she recites verses by memory.
The Sampler. Another abductor. He takes Kris to a remote medical trailer for a bizarre operation in which he removes the bug from her body and implants it into a piglet. He then proceeds to play God by remotely influencing Kris and her life.
Now we have Jeff who meets Kris and eventually falls in love with him. They have a connection that they can’t fully comprehend. Jeff has also been robbed without realizing it and suffering from mind problems. There are others who have been linked this way.
Also, the piglets go through as much distress as the people they represent.
(Or is it the other way round?)
The orchids too maybe absorb the identities of the people originally subsumed by the bugs and when the piglets are thrown into the river, the bodies enter into plant roots, and the cycle is complete.
Also is this movie about free will? The movie ends with people taking control. So, is the movie about free will? I digress.
Sounds familiar? Is this a Television metaphor? *audible gasp* Also, turns out the consumer is now part of a bigger tableau, so to speak. The consumer can now “feel” things on a universal level. Again, a greater mythos? A connected world?
Particle A. Particle B. Located in separate locations. Locations so far off that they don’t even know of each other’s existence. But they are entangled. They affect each other. That is just quantum shibboleth. Particles A and B are already connected. Changes in A cause changes in B and vice versa. A and B are confused, scared even, because they have no idea what and why things are happening. Then suddenly A is doing something else and B is doing something else and you are disoriented too. Err, that just sounds like my life?
I like that the film offers this and then changes it. Like that little blob of colour in water. It grows and it changes shape and texture and dimension. A strange cycle instead of a linear construct.
Shane Carruth, I think, approaches all his movies like theories. He does the ground work, he makes the assumptions, he lays down the prerequisites and he writes it all out. SCIENCE.
The dialogue is spartan and not in the least bit expository. And yet we do connect with the characters. It promises and delivers a connection that is not only cerebral and intellectually fulfilling but also aesthetic and emotionally fulfilling.
There is no use bringing film grammar into this. It is not a movie that you need to understand. It is a movie that you need to watch.
So, let us build some theories shall we? *ominous laughter*
We are born. We want and seek love in different forms and ways. Compassion, affection, adulation, the works. This mystical feeling which allows us to be magically not responsible for our actions is the connection. Clearly, it is a wildly thrilling and strangely compelling force. But ultimately, we are the actors.
Is there a God or is it Nature? The strange cycle. Is there a chaotic order or is it ordered chaos?
Our environment is full of takers and givers. Thieves take but they don’t give back. Samplers take and give back but it might not be the same thing that they took.
Imagine that you have a soulmate.
I think a soulmate is one of the greatest theoretical constructs of mankind and sadly I must also acknowledge that often it is just that. Theory.
The world around you is a heavy, mix of disorienting sounds, sights, and motions.
As the movie progresses we see Kris and Jeff become tied together; become one. Conscious and unconscious.
Question: What is the film about?
Short Answer: Pareidolia.
The human tendency to try to find meaning in everything. Different things mean different things to different people. And yet a lot of these people find Jesus looking at them from a tortilla.
I was curious of the audiovisual puzzle that the movie was but I didn’t want to go looking for a solution. It has a clear fabula, content, and syuzhet, flow.
And here I must compare Primer and Upstream Color. Primer was an enigma wrapped in a puzzle and sent back in time to confuse you. It was math.
Upstream Color is less interested in narrative conventions and answering all of your questions, then in moving you. It shows you a mystery. A mystery so universal that you don’t recognize it for what it is.
It is art.
It wants you to go along with it and immerse yourself into its world and this existential story about the fragile things that make us human.
It is extraordinary.
“I do not say that John or Johnathan will realize all this; but such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”
Watch the official trailer, here: