'Upstream Color' Review: Artsy Character Study Engages While It Confounds

Upstream Color marked the debut of a freshly minted film-school graduate, it might be dismissed as pretentious nonsense. Or maybe not. In any case, Shane Carruth, the 40-year-old Texan who did assemble this strange picture, has never set foot in a film school.

A one-time software programmer with an obsessive interest in movies, he taught himself to write, produce, direct, shoot, edit, score, and act in his own projects. Over the years since his only previous film--the 2004 Primer, a tech-talky sci-fi item, made for $7,000--Carruth wasted considerable time beating his head against the Hollywood wall before turning his back on the big time in order to maintain total control of his work. (He’s even distributing this new movie himself.)

The result is a picture that’s baffling from beginning to end, at least on first viewing; but it’s also woozily beautiful. And since Carruth is clearly no poser, I think we have to accept that this is the movie he really, really wanted to make.

The story ignores standard notions of comprehensibility. A young woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) is abducted by a man who force-feeds her a liquid brewed from live maggots (or maybe some other sort of icky grub). He proceeds to drain her personality by making her hand-copy Thoreau’s Walden in its entirety. When she tells him her net worth is $36,000 -- all in coins, whatever that could mean -- he proceeds to drain her bank account as well. There follows an unexpected bit of pig surgery (pigs loom large in this picture), and then Kris finds herself back in the workaday world, now coinless and, after her extended absence, unemployed.

Read the full review at Reason.com


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