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Swimming Upstream Color: God/dess in Search of Humanity

Amy Seimetz and Shane Carruth star in this provocative, enigmatic film.

Upstream Color


Now available for renting online or at Philadelphia entertainment outlets is the kaleidoscopic film “Upstream Color.”

Shane Carruth, the brilliant auteur who first gifted filmgoers with “Primer”, a science fiction beacon that outshone much of Sundance originality about a decade ago, has an underground masterpiece quietly affecting film viewers via Philadelphia-area and national commercial outlets such as Netflix. It is a masterwork of sphinxlike conundrums and thoughtful perplexity. In contradistinction to pretentiousness, Carruth obviates such suppositions of pretention in this latest film because every scene, color, line of dialogue and zoological trope is mined with calm understatement. This film quietly crawls under your skin in a way that does not enervate criticism. Rather, it makes you think in the best way imaginable about eternal values and questions.

Formerly a software engineer who coded flight algorithms for the aeronautics industry, Carruth has stated in press interviews how he more or less went into mathematical computer science to “be able to eat” while pursuing a structured desire to tell stories via the medium of film. We are very lucky he forged a career enabling such artistic lifework to be heard and seen, for both “Primer” and “Upstream Color” are among the most challenging, talented, incisive, brilliant, bold and upending cinematic works I have seen in the past ten years. His writing/directorial style is like David Lynch, but with the finesse-full sleek stylization of David O. Russell coupled with David Fincher’s heart-pounding exposition and Ridley Scott’s hyper-vigilant story projection with strength rooted in science fiction. Taking a cue from Clint Eastwood (who scored “Million Dollar Baby”), Carruth also composes the music for his films.

Though “Primer” had a production value of considerable less quality (but not lacking in the cold, calculating, incisive intelligence), “Upstream Color” is a full, professionally digitized and beautifully cinematographed product not really meant to be readily understood. It is meant to be absorbed, digested, pondered and cogitated upon for weeks, even months post-viewing. About a fourth of the way through the film, a character says something along the lines of “Each drink is better than the last, leaving you with an unquenchable desire for more. Take one now.”

The ostensible foundation for the “plot” (and this is ambiguous, at best- very much open for interpretation) is that some sort of chemical drug, produced by some sort of worm inhabiting some sort of tropical flower, enables the person administering said worm to completely control the mind and body of chemically-controlled victim, for as long as the person chooses to take advantage of such power. Two people (one played by writer/director Carruth, the other by a luminous Amy Seimetz) intersect with lives having been damaged by aforementioned victimization. There are strong, seemingly incoherent parallels to pig farming, bird migrations, memory, flower colors, chlorophyll, pigment, shepherding, spirituality and the nature of God or free will interwoven throughout this picture’s searing images.

In one of the most enigmatic and moving scenes, Carruth even incorporates a wonderful homage to “Walden”, connecting Thoreau’s radiant philosophy to the other metaphysical conundrums posed by his screenplay.

All in all, this is a difficult, beautiful and tough nut of a film to crack. If you’d like to rent a movie that will make you think as much as have you entertained, this is one to watch.

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