Upstream Color | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Upstream Color

An often obtuse but intriguing rumination on the self, from the director of Primer


I loved Shane Carruth's previous film, the low-budget time-travel morality play Primer (2002), which defiantly teetered between logic and head-scratching because that tension was part of the experience. After nine years, Carruth delivers his second film, which is even more ambitious and more obtuse. I'm not kidding when I say it involves identity theft, strange flowers, worms, Walden, sound engineering and the souls of kidnapped humans transplanted into pigs. Some of it makes sense over the course of the film, and some of it seems to exist simply for the viewer to experience, or to reflect on later, or to be intentionally discomfited by.

Because one clearly discernible theme of Carruth's film involves asking what happens when an individual is removed from his or her deepest moorings — including identity and emotions. What passes for plot follows two people — a woman (Amy Seimetz) and a man (Carruth) — who have undergone the human-to-pig transfer, and have seemingly been reduced to empty husks. But they find each other, recognize similar distress, and begin a slow process of rebuilding and reclaiming their selves. Or perhaps newer, hybridized forms of self, as the film also seems interested in bio-engineering or cyclical mutations.

This isn't an easy to film to categorize: It's got aspects of sci-fi, romantic drama and non-narrative mood piece. And plenty of people will just be annoyed and frustrated by its lack of story, slow pace and assorted trippiness. Even I'm not sure exactly why I liked it, but I found it compelling to watch and have enjoyed mulling it over since.

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