Upstream Color – Film Review – 2013 – Film Dispenser

Film May 11, 2013 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

You awaken in your car parked on the median of a highway and have no idea how you got there. Your last memory is entering the restroom of a bar after a day at work. Was that yesterday? Two days ago? A week? Now you’re dirty, disheveled and have cuts and bruises on your body. You arrive at the office in time to be summarily fired for your lengthy unexplained absence. To cap things off, you discover that you opened a home equity line of credit, drained all of your net worth out of the bank, and it’s nowhere to be found.

This sounds like the beginning of a paint-by-numbers Hollywood thriller where Liam Neeson plays a character named Stone something or other who had his identity stolen and ends with him dispatching all the bad guys who done him wrong. Upstream Color, the new film written, directed and produced by Shane Carruth, is nothing of the sort, and we can all rejoice in that. In fact, the audience is already privy to the series of events that befall Kris (Amy Seimetz) before she awakens in her state of disorientation. We have already been witnesses to her abduction and find it difficult to believe what we’ve just seen with our own two eyes. We know that anything Kris is imagining is far less bizarre than what has actually happened to her.

After her victimization, Kris finds herself working in a print shop, taking a variety of psychotropic drugs and trying to make sense of where her life has inexplicably taken her. She finds herself subconsciously drawn to the hum of the subway train and rides it aimlessly for hours at a time. During one of her joyless metro rides, she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), and they begin a tentative friendship. For the remainder of the film, we follow the couple as they try to make sense of their relationship, their place in the world and (possibly) what happened to Kris.

The sequence of events that follows is not entirely linear nor is it entirely abstract. Vigilant viewing will be rewarded, but this film is not a puzzle to be pieced together. It is not something that has a solution. It’s an exploration of the nature of attraction, the power of memories, and feeling disconnected in a world that grows more and more intertwined with the advent of every new technology. Although Kris’ plight is truly inexplicable and hard to relate to at times, we all have our own personal baggage that we keep concealed from the world that colors our views, shapes our behavior and forms the personal reality in which we live. Upstream Color explores how we cope with the outside world and why we find the ones we love who can help us carry what weighs us down.

Upstream Color is about the journey, not the destination. If you are the type of viewer who needs all mysteries solved at the end of the 90 minutes or if you are a perpetual multi-tasker who throws a movie up on the TV while you fold laundry or read a magazine, Upstream Color is not the film for you. It does not aspire to explain itself to you. I am certain that even with repeated viewings there are portions of the film that will remain an enigma. Even with its abductions and occasional acts of violence, this film is not a thriller or a whodunit, and that’s perhaps the most refreshing thing about it. You have never seen anything quite like this, and that’s a good thing.

The majority of the credit for the success of Upstream Color goes to the cinematic one-man band of Shane Carruth. He wrote the screenplay, directed the film, composed the score, co-edited the final cut and delivers a nice performance in front of the camera. Although his only other film credit, Primer (2004), was an indie darling when it was released, I wasn’t prepared for the quantum leap forward Carruth has taken as a filmmaker. Despite my admiration of his talent, I find myself wishing him only modest success for fear that his creativity will be swallowed by the Hollywood lowest common denominator movie-making machine.

A nod also has to be given to Amy Seimetz who grounds Kris in such believability that the audience feels her pain as she finds herself plunged into a world gone mad and tries desperately to keep a grip on her sanity. She evokes sympathy from the audience without ever trying to pluck at their heartstrings. She never resorts to scenery chewing. It’s a quiet, heartbreaking performance that gives the film a solid emotional core.

As a critic I have a tendency to give too many originality points to a film that dares to try something new. I can look past minor flaws to admire the boldness of a different type of filmmaking vision. Upstream Color will be divisive. Some viewers will hate it because it challenges them, and it is not the type of cinematic storytelling to which we have become accustomed. It doesn’t spoon-feed its meaning to you. It treats the audience like it has a brain. You’ll have questions when it ends, and those questions may not have answers. But, that doesn’t keep Upstream Color from being one of the best films of 2013.

9 out of 10

Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

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