Director: Shane Carruth
Cast: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Frank Mosley
Spoilers Within: No
It’s nearing a decade since Shane Carruth’s baffling time-travel debut Primer divided audiences and made many lose their minds trying to decipher its intricacies. Carruth’s long-awaited sophomore feature Upstream Colour is no less mystifying, but amongst its unending perplexity is a beautifully transcendent story of the cyclical nature of human existence.
Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz play two disparate people who, after a brief encounter, find a metaphysical connection to each other that links back to the seemingly unconnected characters known only as the Thief, The Sampler, and the Orchid Mother and Daughter. To surmise it’s plot any further would be foolish, as the sense of disarray and the subsequent feeling of satisfaction from connecting the dots can be so handsomely rewarding once the credits start to roll.
As with Primer, Carruth not only stars but – like a true polymath – also wrote, directed, produced, shot, edited and scored this follow-up; each coalescing with complete finesse that not even the likes of Terrence Malick – of which the film can be compared to on a primitive level – can declare.
Amongst the beauty of the cinematography, the brilliance of the soundtrack, and the swift, enigmatic editing, it is the duo of Carruth and Seimetz that give the film it’s much-needed sentimental anchor. Seimetz’s Kris is hampered by a volatile frailty; a character whose path seems unwritten until her chance encounter with Carruth’s Jeff; both of whom have unknowingly been subject to the same hypnosis at the hands of The Thief. Kris’ vacuousness is perfectly realised by Seimetz who pulls off the irreparably damaged with candour and credibility, and Carruth shows how autodidactic he is as Jeff is similarly damaged but all the more stable and earnest than his new-found partner.
Upstream Colour is purposefully elliptical: Carruth’s refusal to spoon-feed a single component of the narrative is an approach that will split the audiences in half as the curtains close: those that don’t ‘get it’ and will use that as a detriment to their enjoyment, and those that don’t ‘get it’ but will feel the utmost respect at being given the opportunity to piece together the puzzle for themselves. As is evident by my glowing review, I fit snugly into the latter category; a sense of befuddlement was matched by a rhapsodic sense of joy during post-viewing examination. There will be aspects that you’ll fail to grasp – and you’d be lying if you said you didn’t – but it’s clear that Carruth has the universe and the science behind it clearly mapped out, so it’s up to you to fill in those gaps.
If Primer were the germinal beginnings of a filmmaker practicing his craft, then Upstream Colour is the fully formed, boastfully avant-garde organism. Carruth has honed his skill over this nine-year interlude and given life to a sincere, heartfelt and alluring sci-fi tale that will be as essential in the future as it is right now.