The intoxicatingly strange journey, "Upstream Color" visits the realities of a malicious thief, confused heroine and mysterious pig farmer in Shane Carruth's second Sundance appearance as writer, director, producer and actor.
Many questions were left unanswered and loose ends untied, but once I lifted any expectations of a clean, understandable ending, I could appreciate a deeper mythological perspective from this science fiction flick.
Amy Seimetz and Shane Carruth in "Upstream Color." Courtsey of Sundance Institute.
The heroine, Kris (Amy Seimetz), is forced to consume a supernatural worm, which leaves her brainwashed and obtusely connected to a pig. During her hypnosis, the brainwashing thief embezzles all of her money and forces her to read and memorize passages from Henry David Thoreau's "Walden." Upon sobering up from this perplexing abduction, the young woman finds her life has fallen apart as she loses her job and discovers her home a disgusting, bloody mess.
A piece of her now missing, she encounters a man, Jeff (Carruth), on the subway, with whom she's somehow linked. The pair quickly develop a co-dependent, disoriented relationship—even confusing each other’s childhood memories and hiding from invisible dangers together.
Intermittently, the farmer, who surgically connected Kris with a pig, is seen feeding and caring for a drove of pigs. The stoic farmer is also seen in many other scenes, where it appears the other people are unaware of his presence. The scenes switching between pig and human lead to the question — how are these connected?
Unfortunately, the answer is never concretely delivered and most viewers, like myself, were left scratching their heads.
Proceeding the credit roll and applause, one audience member was overheard saying, “he better have some answers,” before Carruth returned to the stage for Q&A.
“I always had a weird feeling like (the script) might sound crazy,” the director said as the audience responded with soft laughter.
When the floor opened to questions, Carruth responded to an inquiry about the initial idea that bred the film. He explained he felt he was never participating in real conversations anymore, but merely going through lists of talking points. He wanted to have characters who had to build their identities from scratch based on the things around them, rather than preconceived notions of their identity.
Despite the confusing plot and unsettling cohesion, “Upstream Color” is beautifully crafted with an impressive score and powerful sound effects. The overall meaning is clearly up for debate since Carruth himself stumbled over his words trying to describe it.
This film won’t become a mainstream hit, but will likely gain a cult following similar to Carruth’s first Sundance showing “Primer.” The unconventional setup was a bit too uncomfortable for my taste, but die-hard fans will appreciate the deeper philosophical interpretations.
Jan. 25, 6 p.m., Tower Theatre, SLC
Jan. 26, 2:30 p.m., Library Center Theatre, Park City