Review: Upstream Color (2013)

upstream color

I swim upstream often, it’s a consistent problem with me!

Written By: Shane Carruth
Directed By: Shane Carruth

Upstream Color is a science fiction film, but that’s its most dangerous aspect. I say dangerous because the allure is present to try and figure out the why of what is happening on screen. If one worries too much about the science I fear that they would lose sight of what makes Upstream Color a tremendous improvement over Shane Carruth’s debut feature, Primer. Mr. Carruth’s debut film was also heavy on science, but it skimped on humanity. Upstream Color never loses sight of the human experience, and in the end that’s what I believe the film to be about, the human experience.

People hurt one another, they lift one another up, they take action against one another, and they think of one another. The human experience is one of interaction, of the desire to include others in your life. There are those who are different from what I just described. Heck, in a lot of ways I would fall into that different category. I’m more of a loner than a communal person. But, even I found my wife, and even I seek outlets to express myself publicly. I used to kid myself and say that this blog existed so I could write, and that was the only reason for its existence. That lie slowly faded away as I came to realize that this blog exists because I wish to share my thoughts with the rest of the world. That’s what the human experience is, it’s sharing with others and taking what others are willing to give you.

Mr. Carruth’s film uses science fiction as a vehicle to tackle the human experience. What happens with humans and pigs in a medical aspect of the film doesn’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things. What matters is the result of the medical aspect, what the medical aspect tells us about the human experience. We’re in this together, we share ourselves with others and that is a bewildering and scary idea. That’s why the science behind Upstream Color is complex, because like one of its themes it mirrors humanity. There’s nothing simple about interacting with others, opening yourself up to another individual is a scary, scary process. You’re leaving yourself out there, naked and vulnerable. Trust is being asked for, and far too often that trust is not supplied. Yet time and again we seek to put ourselves out there, because that shared experience is something we need to feel complete.

At the same time the human experience is a fractured one. It never truly feels complete from an individual perspective. Think of how we define our lives, not by what we do but by the interactions we have with others. Our lives, and our experiences, are fractured and incomplete. That’s where the Sampler comes into play. He’s humanity when it shies away from sharing experiences, when it would rather be on the outside looking in. He has to seek out others, for his experiments and other reasons, because he has trouble feeling. To feel is to share, and what he does is not to truly feel but to sample that which he cannot understand. The Sampler is incomplete and fractured, trying to make sense of an experience that confuses him. That’s something I find inherently true in humanity, at least until we freely open ourselves up to others and accept whatever may come of that act.

There’s more to Upstream Color than science and the human experience. There’s also quality filmmaking on display from Mr. Carruth. Upstream Color is gorgeous, and makes great use of both sound and editorial cuts. At times I felt as if Mr. Carruth became lost in his own message, but he never stayed lost for long. I have little doubt that Upstream Color is a film that will grow in my estimation following future viewings. It’s a complex film that is also surprisingly simple in its understanding of what it is to be human. Unlike Primer, Upstream Color is not lacking in its relationships, and I’ll almost always take relationships and humanity over science. In Upstream Color Shane Carruth seems to understand this, an his film dazzles as a result.




2 responses to “Review: Upstream Color (2013)

  1. Good review Bill. I wasn’t such a huge fan of Primer, but I definitely respected it for doing something unlike what I’ve seen from countless other sci-fi flicks that had to do with time-travel. This movie was different though as it was still confusing, but also a lot more emotional and personal. Let’s hope that Carruth continues to make movies, because so far, my interest in him is running wild.

  2. From what I heard he’s working on his next feature right now.

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