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True Identity Theft
ferguson-619 April 2013
Greetings again from the darkness. This is no typical movie, so these will not be typical comments. In 2004, Shane Carruth became something of a cult hero with the Sundance Festival crowd when his debut film PRIMER won a Grand Jury Award. Nine years later, we get his follow-up ... the ultimate artsy, indie film for those who thrive on analysis and prefer to avoid a story ending wrapped up with a neat bow.

These comments will not give you much, but I can tell you the screening had many viewers who left frustrated and confused. The fragmented narrative can be a bit disorienting and it avoids the usual staple of a resolution at the end. The audience knows more than the characters, yet the audience is baffled while the characters just continue on.

The first segment of the film is when it's at its most traditional. We see Thief (Thiago Martins) perform some type of worm/parasite procedure that slowly brainwashes Kris (Amy Seimetz) or leads to mind control or loss of personality ... just depends how you prefer to describe it. We then see The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) help her overcome thanks to a blood transfusion on his pig farm. Yes, really. Finally, Kris bonds with Jeff (Shane Carruth) as they seek to reassemble their lives and re-discover themselves. Watching them bicker over who belongs to what memory is frightening and fascinating. It makes you question the definition of personal identity, and what if we lost that (or it was stolen).

Nature plays a huge role here, along with the connection to Thoreau's Walden. Many will use the term pretentious. Some will call it boring. Still others will be drawn in by the imagery and sound (or sometimes lack thereof). Shane Carruth does not fit Hollywood and neither do his films. He is a writer, producer, director, co-editor, cinematographer, and actor. He clearly has a love of the material and his choice of Amy Seimetz really makes the film work. She is outstanding (and also a filmmaker). The tired phrase "it's not for everyone" certainly applies here, but if you are a Terrence Malick fan or just enjoy being challenged by somewhat abstract themes, this one is worth a look.
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"Each drink is better than the last, leaving you with the desire to have one more. Take a drink now."
Al_The_Strange25 May 2013
I knew this film was going to be weird. Shane Carruth's debut film - Primer - was an oddity as it was, lacking in straightforward answers or explanations, but presenting a very intriguing and sturdy piece of hard science fiction. Be warned that Upstream Color is also something that lacks a straightforward explanation. In fact, Primer was something rather cold, with its strong basis in the scientific method; UC is far warmer and artistic, but is also more abstract.

The film may come off as slow and dull to certain viewers, especially if you're expecting a strong narrative structure or plot. I'm usually adverse to movies that have no real plot or conflict, but with this film, it's the experience that matters. Watching this film is a strangely mesmerizing, lucid, and smooth experience, given the exquisite imagery, nuanced performances, and quality music score. The film's first fifteen minutes are probably the most straightforward, most interesting, and most disturbing aspect of the whole thing, and it serves as an important fulcrum point. This much I understand: the film starts off with the freaky notion that there's a man injecting grubs into people, which makes them susceptible to mind control. From then on, the film tracks two such victims who inevitably come together and discover the secrets of their latent trauma.

What makes the film so weird, so cerebral, and potentially frustrating, is that things happen, and characters will say things that won't make total sense. And most scenes are intercut with such footage as a farmer tending to pigs, and flowers growing in the wilderness. The movie draws stark parallels between such images, to unearth some rich thematic territory. Could such scenes reflect on life and death? Is it all about nature? Is it about love? Is it the human condition overall? The film never really tell you outright, and it gets very surreal when scenes overlap. If you struggle to find logic behind this story, you might write it off as messy. If you take in the experience and open your mind to interpreting the film, it'll keep your brain going and haunt you indefinitely. It's an experience comparable to such films as Mulholland Drive.

This film is very stylish, with some beautiful photography and ingenious editing. All actors put on decent performances, and they show a good blend of nuance and emotion. Writing is pretty weird, given the amount of strange and unusual dialogue. This production uses excellent sets, props, and costumes. The music score is very exquisite.

While Primer was a film that appeals on an intellectual level, Upstream Color appeals best to the artistic side of the brain. If you're susceptible to strange, abstract films that require lots of brainpower to interpret and understand, then this one is a perfect puzzlebox for you. Casual audiences might want to approach this with caution.

5/5 (Experience: Very Good | Content: Very Good | Film: Perfect)
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Alienating and tedious
Red-Barracuda30 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Where to begin? Well, it's very possible that Upstream Colour has a very interesting premise. I can't really confirm this though because quite frankly this is one incomprehensible movie. It starts out fairly intriguing to be fair, with a woman abducted by a man who implants a modified maggot into her. This leaves her in some way under his control and he proceeds to get her to give all of her money to him. Another man pitches up and transfers her internal maggot into a pig. It appears that he has a group of pigs that are all connected to different people who have suffered a similar fate. Anyway, the girl has no memory of her ordeal and soon she meets a man who it turns out was also a victim of the same ordeal. It's at this point that the film goes rapidly downhill.

Upstream Colour is one of those movies where things are certainly not spelled out to the audience. This in itself is not a criticism; it's often laudable in actual fact. But equally this in and of itself is does not necessarily mean a film should be praised. This movie lost me mainly because of the alienating presentation, it was impossible to empathise with the characters and the constant ambient soundtrack humming in the background only added to the detachment. The tone of the movie is more or less a flat line - beyond the interesting opening the story hums along in a one pitch manner. The dialogue scenes between the two central protagonists are very unengaging, bordering on tedious. Visually there were things of interest and its ambiguity was compelling to an extent but overall this one left me very cold.
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Oink oink.
horizon200818 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
It's hilarious reading some of the comments for this movie, people give it ten stars but at the same time (if you read their comments) you can see they haven't got any more of an idea what the film is about than those who said it was rubbish and gave it just two. It seems then that some like to lie their way into making you believe they understood something you didn't. Pretentious? Most definitely.

The film is just a collection of random scenes then. And you will find your brain struggling to find something that connects them all. A few times I thought I might be getting there, but just when you think the door of perception is opening.... Slam, it shuts in your face again.

The film begins with a guy collecting maggots from the base of a plant, and scraping off some blue powder from it's leaves. The collected maggot(s) are then fed to a woman who's left a club and the effect is she's hypnotized into withdrawing sums of money collected from the equity on her house. Once out of her trance she tries to remove her inner maggots (which now seem to have magically changed species into tapeworms) and are seen crawling under her skin. She gets a knife and tries half-heartedly to cut them out to no avail. She then goes to some pig farmer who appears to remove them but afterwards shes not the same person she was before, becoming vacant and kind of disturbed and depressed.

Later on, we see her on a train where she meets some other weird soul and they strike up a relationship. From here it all gets a bit wishy washy with apparently pointless dialogue and no real direct thread of a story. At one point the girl thinks she's pregnant and goes to a hospital where they tell her shes been operated on at some stage, even though she herself disagrees (a reference to the pig farmers removal of her maggot/tapeworms), but then she's told shes had cancer but it's all gone now.

Later there are scenes of some people collecting blue flowers growing near a river where the farmer from earlier had been throwing piglets in a sack to their death. We are shown the dead piglets rotting in the river, and the ooze that comes out seems to rise up through the roots of riverside plants being fed on by maggots. Was this a connection then? Dead pig juice being picked up by maggots in plants which were given to the woman which hypnotized her? Your guess is as good as mine.

Eventually the couple are lead via sounds (the pig farmer liked to record sounds on some equipment he had) to the farmer where the woman shoots him and a bunch of other people turn up (which we are shown on what looks like some medical kind of records) and they take over his farm. There's a cut then to the flower collectors from earlier who can no longer find the blue flowers they wanted (only white) which seemed to indicate that whatever was making these blue flowers is now gone (no more dead pigs in the river maybe?). And that's about it.

Basically, the film is pig swill. It looks great, cinematically, and I think I've probably put up the best explanation yet here of what the film is actually "about" - even though that seems to be nothing at all. I think it was Alfred Hitchcock who said something like: An audience not understanding, is an audience not emoting - and that's exactly what happens in this pile of pig poo. My advice then is don't waste your time on it, or if you do, don't pretend you got it. I don't believe you.
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Tedious, pretentious and utterly exhausting
cherold14 April 2013
Upstream Color begins as a puzzling but reasonably coherent movie; much of the beginning is a disturbing and unpleasant but somewhat interesting sequence in which a woman is kidnapped and kind of hypnotized. While some of it doesn't make much sense, I could think of explanations for why things happen they way they do, and the odd, distanced, no-affect acting is appropriate to what is going on.

Unfortunately distanced characters and no-affect speaking are the rule even after that scene, and puzzling goes to flat out senseless as the movie progresses.

The movie is very much a pretentious art film in which the viewer is supposed to do the work of filling in the gaps of the movie. It is full of strange transitions, inter-cutting between scenes that seem to have nothing to do with one another or between different versions of the same thing. The movie is for people who feel things like story and character development are simple catering to the masses. It is the sort of movie that, if you hate it, you think the people who like it may just be pretending to like it to seem cool, because it is so hard to imagine anyone could genuinely enjoy this. It is a movie that resolutely makes less and less sense as it goes along, so while early on I still thought the elements might somehow be at least vaguely tied together, by the end it appeared that the director himself probably didn't even know how it all connected.

This is not to say there are no interesting ideas in the film, because there are a couple. In fact, you could take parts of this movie and make something vaguely interesting out of them. But this movie fails to use its ideas to good effect. It also never connects you to its characters, leaving you alienated and alone in a confused landscape.

While the movie looks like a puzzle to be solved, I think it is like the famous riddle from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, "Why is a raven like a writing desk," in which when she admits she cannot solve it she is told there is no answer. There is no answer to this movie either, although someone may eventually cobble one together, in the same way that, years later, someone answered the Raven riddle (because Poe wrote on both).

The frustrating thing is, I can't stop mulling over what it means, and yes, I am thinking of connections and possibilities. But these connections do not themselves connect. You can make some of this make sense, at least in terms of allegory, but there are always loose ends, like leftover screws in Ikea furniture. And while fans of this movie will watch it over and over, looking for clues, I would never put myself through this again, because the movie is quite boring and just plain tiring to sit through.

In looking at reviews, trying to figure out why critics love this movie, I found comments that it was brilliantly and beautifully filmed. I don't understand that reaction. From the first moment I thought it was a flat- looking, low budget movie. Competently filmed within its limitations, certainly, but that's about it.

I have a friend who will only watch indie films, and after she rejected my first three choices, we settled on this. She soon apologized for rejecting my choices (she kept complaining and apologizing, in fact, until someone in the theater told her to shut up) and promised that next time I could choose the movie.
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World Premiere (mild spoilers)
Trentflix22 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The last paragraph will contain mild spoilers; this is a film you don't want to know anything about before going in so I still recommend skipping it. But I offer it as a jumping point into understanding this film, as I'm sure many will be upset and wonder about that.

I attended the world premiere of Upstream Color at Sundance 2013 along with a Q&A from writer, director, actor etc. Shane Currath. I am a big fan of Primer and I also appreciate esoteric/enigmatic and visual works. Upstream Color definitely can be described with those words. I think Primer is complex and intelligent/intellectual yet can be enjoyed by a broad audience. Upstream Color is easy to understand on a literal, plot level but the themes and allegory are a little harder to understand (I don't claim to fully understand it yet). Needless to say, it's not one that the majority of movie-goers will appreciate.

Aesthetically, it is a beautiful film full of poetic-imagery. It is very visual not unlike the work of Terrence Malick. Our protagonists are exceptionally acted, especially Amy Seimetz as Kris, she is captivating as is the film itself. I'm not going to talk about the plot but keep in mind that it is an allegory. I can't say whether or not I 'enjoyed' this film, but while watching it, it had my fullest attention and it has consumed my thoughts since trying to make sense of it. I wonder if it could have been more effective if it had been clearer. To the movies credit, the last third has no dialogue but none is needed, the film has established an emotional and visual language that the audience fully understands and embraces. This film could be genius; it could just be a lot of pomp with a compelling façade. The film had some real moments of emotional resonance yet at the end I felt hollow and unsatisfied. I probably will revisit this film to understand it and my response better.

The Q&A was interesting, Shane Currath didn't inspire confidence that he had a singular vision and intent for this film (from his answers it sounded like he had some loose ideas and put it on screen). The film prominently features Walden, I thought it may tie in thematically but he stated that when he read Walden it seemed like something you would make someone read as torture – and in the film, it is used loosely as such. It may be ironic or purposeful that this film may be a Walden-esque torture as well for some in its transcendental/opaque nature. He also stated that this movie is about tearing people down and their having to build their own narratives. They also may not understand that there are outside forces affecting them, yet they can feel it on some level. That's probably the most-helpful advice in understanding the film.

(mild thematic and plot detail spoilers follow): Keeping those last two statements in mind, at one point 'The Thief' tries to sell drugs to individuals with a worm inside of it that hypnotizes them, let's take that both literally and figuratively as in he is a drug dealer who is trying to get people addicted to drugs which control them and make them do mindless things whilst high and financially bankrupt them. The worm can be viewed as the addiction itself. These people then hit rock-bottom and once they recover they aren't the same people anymore. There were external forces working on them that they weren't/aren't aware of but now they have to build a personal narrative of how to deal with the consequences of their addiction. The part I haven't figured out yet is The Sampler and the pigs but I'm sure the answer is there somewhere, hopefully the previous interpretation I gave is somewhat accurate and helpful.
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Prententious Pap
larrys323 September 2013
To me this film, written, directed, and starring Shane Corruth, played more like an experimental movie and ended up being a bunch of pretentious pap. Maybe I'm not sophisticated enough to get all the symbolism or hidden meanings amid the somber soundtrack, or maybe I'm just not willing to be bored out of my mind with very little clue as to what is happening on the screen.

No thanks. I couldn't wait until it was over, and felt I was "punked" in a way by the filmmaker, a la Terrence Malick's latest movie "To The Wonder".

Maybe they should issue warnings to the film-goer on these type of movies---Danger! Beware!--Incoherent Plot Ahead.
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An exercise in thematic appreciation
hellsfoxes1 March 2013
UPSTREAM COLOR is already baffling the hell out of the world and will especially draw disapproval on IMDb.

The plot is not delivered in a way that is traditionally comprehensible, only to those paying close attention to the themes that unite it all. If you're already rolling your eyes THIS MOVIE IS NOT FOR YOU.

If however you have experienced or would like to experience films where you have to dedicate your ability to assess and determine the underlying idea that is linking a series of enigmatic actions and subtle scenes, UPSTREAM COLOR will intrigue and probably charm you. It very much plays to the TREE OF LIFE crowd.

For me, it's undoubtedly a massive artistic accomplishment. Hugely evocative and if you unearth those ideas, the ability to have human connection, abuse, hope and language among them, you'll have no problem following along and the ending will be very satisfying.

If you want to say "you're not supposed to understand it, just feel it" that's fine. I think that if you stop and ask yourself what idea is driving moments, you can follow along just fine. The story is in the themes. Details are abstract to drive home this point.

I took off two stars because I found the serious tone and sombre score to be so focused and constant, the atmospherics became a little more monotonous than I think was intended. The briefest of levity here and there might have offset the heaviness.

If you're still reading, check it out.
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Stunning, multilayered to perfection.
Stephan_fr17 October 2020
One may be saddened that both 'a topiary' and 'modern ocean' will never be made, but this sad state of Hollywood politics gave birth to 'upstream color', and for this, i'm grateful.

Shane drops the muddled dialog of 'primer' but keeps the gritty realism despite the fantastic subject matter. It's a technical masterpiece on a budget of 50k, using a GH2 and a couple of commercial lenses. It rivals the best of what von Triers and Noe produced.

But where upstream color pulverises all other 'low do sci fi' efforts, it's in its unique, brilliantly executed allegory of a three tiered yet cohesive ecosystem. The script in itself is a masterpiece, a one of a kind, genre busting, convention defying work of genius.

I certainly understand that this may be the last movie from Mr carruth, but it will live forever as my favorite of all times.
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Consult Wikipedia to figure out what this banal, convoluted 'potboiler' is all about!
Turfseer11 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
After watching 'Upstream Color', you might imagine that the film's creator, Mr. Shane Carruth, who was responsible for almost every aspect of the film, is a wide-eyed, creepy guy who resembles an unpleasant, demented version of Doc Brown from 'Back to the Future'. Carruth is far from that as you can get. Watching him on Youtube, during his interview by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, he appears more like a low-key, fraternity pledge at a local college. Carruth recognizes that some of us might regard his second bizarre feature, 'Upstream Color', as both banal and pretentious, but he doesn't care. Publicly he takes the stance of 'to each his own', but beneath the surface, I sensed something a tad bit more arrogant: 'hey, you guys don't really get it!' It would have been nice if a one or two brave, hardy souls had decided to call Carruth out and explicitly criticize him for his self-indulgence, but I can assure you, there were none of those courageous individuals on hand, at the staid Lincoln Center theater.

After polling a number of people who were at the viewing I was at, there seemed to be a consensus that most audience members simply did not understand what was going on. I rushed home and thank God that Wikipedia contained a pretty good synopsis of the Upstream Color plot. I also read a few reviews (mostly positive believe it or not) that painted a clearer picture of Carruth's narrative. Perhaps the best explanation of what the film is about is by one Mach Kobayashi, a young man, who has posted a Youtube video entitled "Upstream Color Explained (With Stick Puppets!).

Once one finally ends up having an inkling as to what this film is about, then one doesn't simply have to get upset with Carruth and blurt out an uninformed pejorative comment, such as 'this is garbage'. Rather, one can be slightly more circumspect, and point to the overall ludicrousness of Carruth's 'vision' (am I allowed to use such a word in describing Carruth's project here?—I think not!).

Carruth's protagonist is Kris, who falls victim to a narcotics producer (referred to in the credits as 'The Thief). We never see this shady character but do see him preparing a blue liquid, which contains a worm from the larvae found inside the leaves of blue orchid flowers he's been cultivating. He administers this concoction to Kris, who falls into this drug-induced stupor. The Thief distracts Kris by having her transcribe a copy of Thoreau's 'On Walden Pond"; while that's going on, The Thief cleans out her home equity account as well as a rare coin collection. When Kris finally wakes up, she can see a worm crawling inside her stomach and tries to remove it by cutting herself with a knife.

The Thief appears to be working for his boss, 'The Sampler', who, according to Wikipedia, uses low intensity sound (Ifrasonics), to lure Kris and the worm (which is drawn to the sound), to him. According to the erudite Mr. Kobayashi, Kris is 'psychically linked' to 'The Sampler' through her connection to the worm. And after The Sampler removes the worm from Kris, he places the worm inside a pig and all those pigs are psychically linked to the humans, who had the same worm in them, from before.

Jeff, a former stockbroker who was a victim of 'The Sampler' (and spent time in jail for embezzlement through no fault of his own), finds Kris and they immediately bond. Kris and Jeff fall in love but are both troubled by memories of their childhood, undoubtedly connected to their bad experiences, while in the drug-induced stupor as a result of their encounter with the 'The Sampler'.

Carruth's villain appears to have the ability to discern what humans are doing through observing his pigs and when he sees that one of the pigs has given birth, he concludes that Kris will too. So that's why he kills the pig by placing it in a burlap bag and throws it in the river. The trauma to the pig somehow affects Kris as well; a checkup at the hospital reveals she wasn't pregnant, but did have Endometrial cancer, which will probably prevent her from giving birth in the future.

Eventually more bad memories creep into Kris' consciousness (she's extremely disturbed, picking up rocks from the bottom of a pool and reciting lines from Thoreau). But fortunately Kris's references to Thoreau leads Jeff to start writing down his own recollections and before you know it, both Jeff and Kris become more conscious of what happened to them vis-à-vis The Sampler. Kris in effect beats The Sampler to the punch—she sees who he is but The Sampler is left trying to figure things out from what his pigs are doing. Since Kris figures out who and where he is, she goes and kills The Sampler.

Not quite the end of the story: once The Sampler is dead, Kris and Jeff can liberate the pig farm, send copies of Walden to other victims, who eventually recover their own memories, join Kris and Jeff at the pig farm, celebrate with a pig fest, no longer grow blue orchids with worms in them, thus depriving The Thief of the key ingredient in his blue orchid liquid narcotic.

In the end, what does it all mean? Carruth's Sampler villain is a weak antagonist because we never know what motivates him to do all these evil things. For Carruth, the symbolism is enough: The Sample represents evil in the world and Kris, with the aid of Jeff, eventually liberates herself from being confined against her will. There's also the ludicrous psychic connection between worms, pigs and humans which destroys any semblance of verisimilitude in the film's narrative. Kudos to Carruth for creating this gobbledygook on a shoe-string budget. But again critics be forewarned: more often than not, the emperor has no clothes!
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Refreshing, clever and probably bound to be bitterly divisive
thraengorn16 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
A question that is likely to plague many that have the pleasure of viewing Upstream Color is regarding what defines "a film," or, more specifically, a worthwhile film. In my view (and many will and are free to disagree), one of the most exciting and interesting characteristics of film is the ability to take an abstract concept or complex social force we all encounter and manifest it into a narrative via a character or concrete mechanism for the protagonist to interact with or confront. Furthermore, film, as an audiovisual medium, can be best used to express ideas or develops through carefully considered combinations of images and sounds. Expositional dialogue is present in so many movies that it is refreshing to come across that rare filmmaker who dares to take a more symbolic or lyrical approach. Should aforementioned images and sounds be beautifully captured, as they are here, all for the better.

I actually view Upstream Color to be both substantially superior to and less confusing than Primer, his debut. So what is Shane Carruth going on about? Primarily, our conception of identity and forces that perhaps we are unable to perceive - much less understand - that mold this identity. It is obvious to even the most casual observer that our lives are overwhelmingly influenced things outside of our control. The plot we see, then, might be viewed as simply an innovative way to introduce these ideas into a film. Kris (Amy Seimetz) is accosted by a man who forces her to ingest a parasitic maggot that allows him to easily hypnotize and control her, with the ultimate goal being to steal everything she has. Once he's achieved this goal, he exits abruptly, leaving behind a ruined life. At this point, a mysterious figure surgically transfers the parasites from Kris to a pig, for motives more complex. No longer physically infected but still influenced by forces she doesn't understand, Kris encounters Jeff, a man similarly broken, and together they struggle to reassemble their lives and make some sense of what has happened to them.

In many ways, Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" may be the key. First, the Thief has Kris copy Thoreau's work as he prepares to wrench away all her material possession, an act which, despite its obvious malevolence, allows Kris to have a spiritual journey of sorts, to build her life up from the ground floor and truly seize life, as Thoreau sought to do in "Walden". As we see Kris reciting lines from "Walden" while retrieving stones from the bottom of a pool, she is expressing not only that she is beginning to remember some of what happened to her, but also that she is becoming aware that her life is not her own and that she must take action to secure her agency, which one could argue is the core thesis of Thoreau's novel. Finally, referencing "Walden" as an analogous narrative demonstrates that the Thief, Sampler and Orchid gatherers as a cycle represent Carruth taking advantage of that most elegant possibility offered by film to heighten and personify all of the inexplicable things that shape our lives. To make any of these figures entirely comprehensible (i.e. scientifically) would defeat the point, and ultimately make for a less intriguing narrative.

The title, then, is quite fitting. Most structurally, it refers to the blue chemical that flows downstream to affect the development of the orchids. Yet, in a metaphysical sense, it refers to the indistinguishable waves vastly divergent from actions taken far outside our perception, their ripples influencing the trajectory of our lives. As suggested by the trailer of the film, we may be able to force the shape of our story, but the color, the details that may define its richness are decided long before we have any say. Likewise, the oblivious and likely mostly benevolent florists, the morally grey or sometimes compromised Sampler and the explicitly exploitative and unethical Thief exist in a cycle, entirely dependent on each other with varying degrees of awareness, true of the power structures that we interact with ubiquitously.

Of course, it would be a mistake to trivialize the importance of romance in this film. In fact, much of the romantic development serves for a crucial springboard into the more ontological issues, and vice versa. What Kris gets from her time with Jeff beyond just companionship in an otherwise bleak existence, is some sense of self-worth, some understanding that fractured she may even be able to be loved to an extent previously unknown. Along the way, we see refreshing glimpses of the insecurities and questions of trust associated with opening your life up to another person. Carruth's framework for the issues that plague these characters allow the realization of such tender truths that the endurance of the film in the hearts of the willing viewer is practically ensured.

Despite the centrality of the romance, this is Kris' story and Seimetz's expression of the character's emotional trajectory is riveting. Carruth is great as the essential but reserved supporting character of Jeff, and succeeds in that his presence never detracts from the immersion. In a leading role, blemishes may have appeared, but there are none here. The score, sometimes reminiscent of Cliff Martinez's score for Soderbergh's Solaris, is universally captivating and worth listening to independently. The soundscape and visual cues serve to demonstrate how the characters most directly perceive a world controlled informed by powers they have no way of rationalizing or verbally expressing, and are always hypnotically rendered. The editing (done in collaboration with David Lowery, himself burgeoning with talent) facilitates a powerful emotional relevance and further aids in suggestion of thematic connections.

Destined to be lauded as a masterpiece by some and condemned as pretentious by others, Upstream Color is at the very least an ambitious sophomore effort from writer/ director/ producer/ editor/ actor/ composer/ distributor/ cinematographer Shane Carruth. I hope to unravel more of its carefully constructed mysteries in much-anticipated future viewings.
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An overwhelming artistic exercise in confusion worth experiencing
mattstevens16 April 2013
As you all know, with PRIMER, Shane Carruth announced himself to the world as a naturally gifted talent, one who could rival the likes of James Cameron. Of course, it never happened as he struggled to get his second film off the ground.

Nine years after PRIMER Shane Carruth's long awaited second film is as dense as expected, with an impossible to understand third act that still manages to intrigue due to its sheer technical mastery. With UPSTREAM COLOR Carruth proves he is not a one-shot wonder. He also proves he is the ultimate NYC and L.A. art-film director incapable of adapting to more mainstream story telling.

Much has been written about the plot so I will not get into the specifics here. What I will say is that I think Carruth purposely holds critical information from his films as a way to challenge viewers and force them to think. This is admirable. But in the end, a bit frustrating because with just a few answers both PRIMER and now UPSTREAM COLOR would be fit for the masses without compromising artistic integrity.

The film made sense to me for about an hour and then it started to slip away. Like with Primer, I just lost my footing and could not gain hold. Amazingly enough, I still enjoyed the experience and was never bored, In fact, at times I was held in genuine suspense.

The third act has been described as 30 minutes without dialog and that simply is not true. There are numerous sequences without dialog and about halfway through we get a major sequence of events told with visuals and music. Then we have some more conventional filmmaking (conventional is really not the right word) followed by what I think might be around 15 minutes of dialog free visuals. The ending makes no sense to me, but I will see the film again and hope to sort it out.

Carruth designed the sound and composed the music and let me tell you, he hit both out of the park. The man could work scoring films and make a great living. The same goes for his sound design.

I watched the film at IFC in New York City and they have a pretty good sound system. What they don't have is a great screen. It might be the proper widescreen aspect ratio, but the images appeared darker in sections and that harmed Carruth's amazing visuals, rumored to have been captured with a hacked $700 Pansonic DSLR (the GH2). The image is akin to a RED or Alexa and throughout Carruth plays with shallow depths of field. This results in some shots missing the sharply focused mark, but for the most part the visuals shine. This film proves you do not need Hollywood style lighting and equipment to make Hollywood level films.

The Blu-Ray will be out in May and I have already put it on order at Amazon. There is no question in my mind that by year's end I will have sat through UPSTREAM COLOR numerous times.

I look forward to Carruth's next film, but with the hope for a little more clarity in his narrative.
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It takes considerable skill to make a film this bad.
suite921 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Kris is attacked one night with an electric stun device, then force-fed a worm of some sort. She gives her money to the scum who attacked her. She takes equity out of real property in which she has some ownership. Most things of value that she has she cashes in or surrenders to her abductor and parasite. Another man abducts her and transfers some of the worms to pigs that are tagged. Apparently there are other victims of this aggressive identity theft.

After the worms are removed, she slowly regains self awareness. She loses her job when she reports to work again. She challenges the bank operations she has done, but the bank has photographic evidence that she in fact instigated her own financial meltdown.

She meets Jeff, who seems to have gone through a similar process of life rape. These two broken people spend time together. Both of them have memory problems. He can hold down a job doing financial work off the record...until he decides to beat up his co-workers. She's had some sort of problem where she cannot have children. About the time he decided to lose his job, she has some sort of work related foul up. They end up cuddling in the empty bathtub with their clothes on.

At one point, the keeper of the pigs gathers up a litter from an infected mother. He ties the piglets up in a burlap bag on throws them into a stream. Everything rots. The worms travel to some orchids. The orchids are collected, packaged, and sold, complete with the parasites. Great.

The book Walden is shown, read from, discussed, and referred to during the film.

They eventually obtain some of the pig farmer's records. These include information about them, but they turn it into a mailing list. They mail a copy of Walden, and invite other victims to the pig farm.


Cinematography: 0/10 Some stretches of this film show expertise. Based on that, one must figure that the poor quality of the film was a choice. Poor framing, poor focus, poor depth of field, jerky camera, massive, avoidable flair not avoided, and so on. The number of abrupt meaningless transitions is rather high, in the hundreds at least.

Sound: 0/10 The incidental music is irritating at best, mind numbingly bad at worst. The voice miking is rather variable. I had my hand on the volume control just so I could attempt to hear the dialog or not be drowned out by the atrocious music. In several passages, the visuals have the characters silent while the sound from another scene is being played. This choice not to synchronise is repellent.

Acting: 0/10 Speaking without affect: no smiles, no frowns, no sparkling eyes, no concern. Fire the casting director as well as the director. Most of all, lose the two lead actors. High school actors with calm faces could have done as well.

Screenplay: 0/10 Death by a thousand (editing) cuts. Remember the fable of 'The Emperor Has No Clothes.' This movie sucks rocks.
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chaos-rampant21 May 2013
Here's a film which ponders suffering and celebrates beauty and meaning, so at least on this count I am firmly behind it.

The point is how to have the lesson, for instance that love redeems, which we know in words but often eludes us in life as experience that needs no explaining beyond itself, as actual insight, as something which wrapping it around us we will know its warmth by simple feel.

Well, most serious films try something of the sort.

Usually how it works, is that there is an interplay of 'hard' and 'soft' elements. Hard would be all the stuff that particularize and discriminate, the more of these we have the harder it is to have unmediated insight because what happens in the story registers in a topical way, for instance a story of female Irish workers in the sewing industry of 1915. Soft is the flow of urges and self as one space for reflection, Malick's latest seems to be the pinnacle at around this time. Wong Kar Wai does it.

Usually, we start with some 'hard' particulars and open up in a 'soft' way, shedding self. But now and then, we get a major blunder like Cloud Atlas where the point is the soft insight of interconnected life but that is fenced on all sides by hard impositions, conspiracies, gunfights etc.

This is a weird, complicated narrative, unnecessarily so for my taste but once you see past the complexity, it is a simple thing. The idea is that there is something in nature which worms its way into the soul and is the cause of all suffering. Seemingly this is producing the anomalies that manifest in the narrative, if suffering sounds overly religious call it an existential dissatisfaction or malaise. We get to see the effect of this in a relationship between a man and woman, how what is eating them keeps tossing them apart and together again.

The 'soft' portion of the film is this tumultuous relationship, the point is it could be yours. We have digress, dissonance, reluctance, knowing and knowing the other so well you can't tell his memories from your own. Some marvellous birdwatching, love as agreeing on the same birds.

Kar Wai is king of this 'pure' emotional space, because he traces particulars faintly into the night, the yearning and alienation as something elusive in the air. Malick which this film reminds of, renders them as huge, abstract forces that buffet us, war or loss.

Here, the entire framework is schematic and 'hard' in the extreme, an actual worm, hypnosis, a sinister surgery of some kind, more clearly the man who keeps the pigs fenced and wanders around trying to 'capture' on tape the manifold sounds, which stands for a broader human endeavor.

I find that this approach cheapens and reduces. Suddenly it is about technology and greed, a clumsy set of metaphors.

So overall, this comes heavily on the side of a silly eccentricity. Next to Malick who is an influence in the solemnity of atmosphere, I was reminded at times of Synecdoche, Wax: Or the Invention of Television among the Bees, Southland Tales, even Begotten, all of them ambitious ventures constrained by a symbolic notation on the ideas.

The ending is so silly it has to be seen, the choice of metaphors is the most ludicrous since Cremaster which all but destroys the film.
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A lovely experience
jtklemway2 June 2013
After this movie ended, I was dumbstruck. I sat looking at the end credits, searching through what I had just watched, remembering the film vividly, and yet having it still be a blur.

Upstream Color is not a literal movie. The plot is never explained directly to the viewer, and the actions taken by the characters are unclear in reason and motivation. The most obvious things I could say about the movie are that it is filmed very well, and it has a nice musical score.

But the movie is not about literal plot. It's not about literal characters. It's about feelings and thoughts. It's a movie about broken people trying to fix themselves. There are things everybody in the movie will understand, and there are things nobody will.

It's a lot like music. When you put on music, you know the mood, and you know the melody, and you know the tempo and the harmony, and it can be a beautiful experience, even though you have no idea what the lyrics mean. And upstream color is a lovely, almost meditative movie about the lives of everyone being interconnected, and about how when people form companionship they start to become one, and yet someone else may say totally opposite things than I'm saying, and they wouldn't be wrong.

It's not a movie for people that think a film must have a literal story. It's not a movie for people who won't watch an hour and a half of meditation. It's not for people who see movies to see stories. And there is no shame in disliking this movie. But if you can appreciate an abstract story and can sit through an hour and a half of meditation, this is the movie for you.

Stanley Kubrick said in his later years: "A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later." If Stanley Kubrick were alive today, I think he would have liked this movie a lot.
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a triumph of pretension over lucidity
RichardSRussell-14 August 2013
Upstream Color (1:36, NR) — 2 — borderline, bargain basement, original

Shane Carruth is justly famed in SF fandom for Primer, an ultra, super, hyper low-budget film shot in a storage locker with a cast of about 2.5 where you spend most of the movie wondering exactly what the heck is going on here. But, once you do, you can't help but admire the cleverness of how you were set up for it.

So I had hopes for Upstream Color, Carruth's 2nd feature, which he spent 9 years building up to. As with Primer, Carruth wrote, directed, produced, acted in, edited, and scored the film, and also spent some time running the camera. Unfortunately, in this one you spend ALL of the movie wondering exactly what the heck is going on here.

It's not quite a silent film, but don't count on the dialog for help in figuring out what's up. For the first 15 minutes it's minimally audible mundanities; for the last half hour, it's totally non- existent; and in between it's sparse, sporadic, and largely soporific. For almost all of it there's subtle, atonal, pulsing background tones which I don't think really qualifies as music but which does serve to create a sense of unease and everything being somewhat off.

The plot, such as I could decipher it, is that an unfortunate young woman, Kris (Amy Seimetz), gets tasered into unconsciousness and has a parasitic worm literally forced down her throat. It seems to make her hypnotically suggestible, during which  time her mainly unseen assaulter runs her thru a series of odd exercises, including looting her bank account. Gradually she seems to return to normal, but by then she's been missing from work for some time and her credit is completely shot, so she loses her job.

We next pick up on her some time later (the time lapse indicated by a noticeably shorter hair style) as this guy on a train, Jeff (Carruth) spots her and uses really crappy, creepy pick-up techniques on her which nonetheless eventually prove successful.

Meanwhile, intercut thru all of this (and there is a LOT of cutting in this movie — seldom does a given shot last more than 5 seconds) is this sound engineer who spends a lot of his time in a fenced-in pigpen for no apparent reason and never utters a word.

These are the more or less intelligible parts of the movie. Most of it is less accessible.

This is a triumph of pretension over lucidity.
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"Upstream" creates a muddled, imprecise portrait.
dylansgabriel4 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
An important question surrounding "Upstream Color" has become: Should the film be applauded just because Shane Carruth attempted it? Carruth did not only direct, write, and star in the film (his second picture, released a decade after his first), but he is also credited as producer, composer, and editor. Carruth's effort and determination is definitely ambitious. But the film itself is a gimcrack vanity trip.

The main character, Kris, experiences severe trauma, which involves her being kidnapped, drugged (the drug contains some metaphysical worm), and hypnotized. When she comes out of her stupor she is penniless and, unable to explain her absence, loses her job.

A man named The Sampler (a separate person from the kidnapper) lures Kris to his farm by using a low-frequency sound. He removes her worm and places it in a piglet. Kris is released, and later meets Jeff, who has been through a similar frightening ordeal.

The piglet carrying Kris' worm is somehow psychically connected to her. When that pig gives birth, The Sampler puts the piglets in a sack and drowns them. At the same time elsewhere, Kris is suddenly panicked (but doesn't know why) and begins searching frantically. Jeff is equally upset. Very scared, the two lock themselves in a bathroom, hiding in the bathtub with a gun and supplies.

Carruth says he chose not to have a relatable trauma happen to the two protagonists because he was worried that if it was too specific, people would believe the commentary was an indictment of whatever that thing was. For example, if the drug used in "Upstream" was a pharmaceutical drug (as opposed to the worm capsules), it could easily be perceived as a comment on pharmaceuticals. This is wrong.

Look at a film that does use a specific subject to communicate a universal message. "Brokeback Mountain" deals with a taboo relationship between two cowboys. But the film's themes extend beyond homosexuality, as is obvious to anyone who has viewed the film.

By trying to make "Upstream Color" more relatable, Carruth does the opposite, and alienates the viewer. How are real-life trauma survivors, or anyone else, supposed to empathize with the victims of pig mind control? And the dreamlike, abstract quality of the film further distances it from reality.

After thinking about it, the similarities between Kris' in-film trauma, and some victims of real-life trauma, became clearer: financial and personal ruin; being endlessly dazed, and frightened, and hopeless, just a general mess. But even when these connections become clear, they lack impact. By generalizing the trauma the film isolates itself; it would have done better to use one specific, tangible trauma. As it is, "Upstream" creates a muddled, imprecise portrait.

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Artschool Frippery... or America's Cinematic Thelonius Monk?
rzajac29 July 2013
I'm taking my chances, and calling it the dawning of America's cinematic Thelonius Monk.

The thing that typifies Monk is a discernible sense of his esthetic; you think you're listening to a path less traveled; then suddenly you realize: It's the blues! And so it is with Carruth, IMHO. You think it's something new--perhaps an explosive still-life of a weird narrative space--but then you realize: It's a story.

I'm very hopeful that, as time goes by, we discover that we have a new great creative force who graces us with burgeoning creative riches. Time will tell.
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An Overwhelming Masterpiece (For Some)
emvan12 April 2013
Make no mistake about it: Shane Carruth makes Christopher Nolan look like Jerry Bruckheimer. If you're not the type who relished figuring out what was going on in MEMENTO (and in its untold backstory), if you haven't spent countless pleasant hours debating INCEPTION, do yourself a favor and skip this movie. As you can tell from the other reviews here, this will just make you mad. If, OTOH, you're someone (like me) who felt let down by LOOPER because it didn't live up to its billing as mind-scrambling and was in fact too easy to get, then this may be just your thing.

Key take-home points:

-- For fans of this sort of storytelling, there's plenty of stuff that's reasonably easy to get, and hence the basic storyline is not hard to follow.

-- OTOH, there are bits that are clearly important and that just as clearly will take three or four viewings (and probably liberal use of pause and rewind) to get. That's Carruth's narrative aesthetic: rather than give you one big "OMG I think I understand this" experience, like in VERTIGO, or two, like the first and second times you see THE PRESTIGE, he wants those bombs of comprehension to explode in your skull gradually, over many viewings.

-- At all points in time I felt that every shot was important, every shot contained information. It never felt like art for art's sake. That of course is partly my trust of Carruth, but I also think I got that feeling because *it's true.* This isn't LOST, folks. This is all designed to eventually cohere completely, leaving holes only where Carruth intends, and leaving the viewer knowing quite a bit and knowing precisely what is unknowable.

-- It's exquisite. Carruth has a directorial and editing (and composing) style that I find transfixing (YMMV, of course). Unlike PRIMER, it's at times beautiful and emotionally resonant. My friend was reduced to tears. It has thematic weight already and I know it will acquire more as the story coheres with repeat viewings.

-- Speaking of which, even though I'll be watching the Blu-Ray on May 7 on a great home theater, my friend and I will see this again at the theater next weekend. That's how blown away we were.
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all the critics loved it
giantpanther26 April 2013
So yes the critics thought it was brilliant, which is usually all the information you need to know that a film will be downright terrible. the problem with film critics is they are paid to watch movies all day, as opposed to the regular person who goes in once or twice a month. Therefore the critic gets sick of anything that is similar to something else and when they see something different they praise it. Yes upstream color is different, but also it's just a terribly bad film.

I went and saw Primer just on random chance when it was in theaters, I was in LA on a trip and decided I needed to see something very indie since where I usually live doesn't have independent theaters the way LA does. So I didn't necessarily like Primer, but I made a mental note of it and told myself to remember the director. Because while Primer wasn't particularly good I could tell that at least the guy who made it had potential. My main issue with Primer was the super flat acting along with the monotone delivery of lines, and if the acting is no good then you don't connect with the characters, with no connection you just don't care.

We got the same problem here, the acting is bad but in a way where you can't really blame the actors I feel like the direction just isn't there or maybe its the script. Either way the acting is flat and dull and the reading of lines is just said in a way where it sounds like someone is reading from a page. I gave this film a solid 30-40 minutes where I refused to judge it, but after that long the film just wore me down and I realized it just was not good. I really wanted to like this one, but I mean at a certain point a film needs to like give the audience something, this is one of those art films where you would imagine the filmmakers behind it would say well we don't care if anyone sees it.

Save yourself some time and skip this one. What a bad film.
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iandaddio30 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
After Primer great things were expected, and perhaps this is the problem. We all have a movie or a book or an album inside us, fermenting over the years whilst we live our lives and decide whether to birth our potential. This is how I see the phenomenon of Primer.

However, this leaves audiences with expectant anticipations for more. Upstream colour is not more, it is less; a lot less in fact. From the quirky quantum but plausible world of Primer, we are thrown in to the psychotic conspiracy theory world of upstream colour.

This is a film that self marginalises by not allowing access by its audience. The cinematography is breath taking and the sound-scape is intriguing, for the first thirty minutes of this film. Then there is the deflated reality that this is perhaps all Shane Carruth had worked out on the napkin in the café he was sitting in at the time of upstream colour's conception.

It is a literally pointless film, the whole story would have fit into those sumptuous first thirty minutes. The dialogue is trite and overly constructed to be strange. The character connections are tenuous at best, and the plot line, when I could decipher it, was well, pointless; a scientist/terrorist who implants maggots into people to steal their money? really? that's it? And this is padded out and convoluted to last 1 hour 36 minutes!

This is one film I will not be climbing into my quantum human photocopying machine to watch again. Sorry Shane; I really enjoyed Primer though.
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Worst piece of garbage I ever saw in my life...
deloudelouvain20 April 2015
First let me tell you I saw more then 10000 movies in my life. So that you get that I can say that I saw a lot of movies. I saw a lot of brilliant ones and of course a lot of very bad B-movies. Now for this movie (I should not use movie for this piece of garbage because that's an insult to real directors) the alphabet is just not long enough. A Z-movie is probably thousand times better then this. Once I saw Lost Highway from David Lynch and when I left the theater that day I was so mad that I lost my precious time on this earth with that movie. Then another time I saw Antichrist from Lars Von Trier and I thought I found the ultimate garbage as a movie. I thought never another movie could top that one in absolute garbage. And then I came upon Upstream Color. I'm almost certain now that this will be the worst movie I will ever see in my life. I can't imagine someone is going to beat this one. It all started promising though, with the maggot forced swallowing. I was intrigued where it would go, but the more the movie got on I realized that director Shane Carruth probably did much to much bad drugs in his life. He must be a really irritable & arrogant person to talk to. I would probably ending up punching him in the face in real life. I have no clue how he got a 50000$ budget to make this atrocity. His vision of a good movie is to have no story at all, use all camera techniques possible, with preference on 3 seconds shots of random stuff, going back and forth about nothing, with extremely annoying piano music or repetitive sounds. I see making movies like art. It's creating something nice to watch. A Van Gogh everybody will appreciate that. But when you pour a bucket of paint on a canvas and call it art you're doing it wrong. That's how Shane Carruth would paint. Just pouring some paint on a canvas and then sign it...
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Amazingly pretentious yet empty at the same time
steven-leibson17 March 2013
We just saw this film thanks to the Cinema Club in San Jose, where you never know what you're going to see until the film starts. We heard it was the most anticipated films of Sundance 2013. Perhaps by masochists.

Here's a list of unconnected thematic elements in the film: psychoactive caterpillars, urban crime and terrorism, Thoreau, swimming, civil disobedience, blue orchids, pigs, pig farming, musique concrète, and "Walden." How these things relate is a secret still locked up inside of writer/filmmaker/director/lead-actor Shane Carruth's mind.

Of particular note was the hour and a half of endlessly repeating, tension-inducing music that never resolved. Perhaps that's the filmmaker's metaphor for life itself. Don't look for this movie's soundtrack to appear on CD although you can get it on iTunes or (amazingly) vinyl LP.

Carruth will be handling film distribution too (probably a wise move) but I think it's highly unlikely that you'll be reading about this film in the box office news. Several people in our audience walked out after only half an hour. We stayed until the bitter end, fervently hoping for some sort of organization or a glimpse of the filmmaker's thinking to put things into some sort of place. Alas, no. This movie stayed true to its art-film leanings to the last frame. (Reading other reviews like the one in the New York Times, that's Carruth's intent so you are now doubly warned.)

We had the opportunity to participate in the Q&A after the film but passed it up. Why add insult to injury? If a movie needs to be explained to be appreciated, in my opinion, then it fails to be an entertainment. If you have to have an IQ of 150 or be a Sundance-class film buff to "get" this film, perhaps the price of admission is too high.
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unworthy sequel of Primer
dragokin28 April 2013
I assume i'm not the only one who watched this because of Primer (2004) and didn't like it. The fact that Primer had the budget of a used car and an amateur turned pro behind it made me wait for his next movie.

Upstream Color starts intriguingly but fails to develop. As we dangle along the scenes devoid of dialog the first association that comes to mind is, of course, The Tree of Life (2011). However, the main problem is not the budget inferior to Terrence Malick's creation, but the holes in and, at times, the complete absence of script.

Upstream Color resembles an experiment rather than a feature film. It is in line with contemporary movies with artistic ambition, with David Lynch being another association. However, i expected more focus from Shane Carruth, the former software developer.
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Stays with you
agoldstein-591-89089113 April 2013
I attended this film solo (only one other person in the theater) which turned out to be a good thing as distractions were nil. Carruth has a lot of respect for the viewer. He doesn't do exposition. And if you pay close attention to this film, you wont need it. Unlike other reviews I've seen, I found Primer much harder to suss out than Upstream Color. There was a clear narrative here and the main protagonists arc is clear to see. I loved it. It was intense, beautifully shot, scored, and of course acted, especially by Amy Seimetz, the lead. She was amazing. If you like your films delivered to you on a silver platter, then this is not for you. But if you like to think a little bit, you will find the 90+ minutes of Upstream Color thoroughly enjoyable. I hope it does very well. And I hope Carruth doesn't take another 8 yrs to do his next one.
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