Shane Carruth’s Primer was one of those cool indie films I had always heard about, and people would always mention in passing, but it always alluded me. A smart and realistic take on time travel is what I always heard, going beyond the cheesy conventions of what sci-fi usually does with it, and grounding it. When I finally saw it, I was in awe of what Carruth was able to do with not only revitalizing that area of sci-fi culture, but how he framed the whole device. The film is set up so realistically and true to everyday life that the story could’ve spun out into anything and had been believable, but it just so happened that it was time travel. Beautifully put together and hauntingly real, Carruth took one of the most grandiose and dreamt upon ideas and made it stunningly real.
With Carruth’s follow up, amazingly coming nine years later, Upstream Color follows in the same vein as Primer, both in concepts and craft. Like his first film, Upstream Color is a mindfuck of equal proportions, a film demanding that you pay attention for every passing second, or else be in real fear of even falling further behind in what’s happening. Carruth’s films, and especially Upstream Color, aren’t designed just to confuse you, he’s not aiming to purposefully screw with you. His films aren’t surprising or even really revelatory, they’re not built on huge twists that destroy the fabric of what came before it. No, they are organic pieces of storytelling, ones that unfold in a less than particular manner, and aren’t just tricks for the sake of tricks.
Upstream Color is all about connections, biologically, physically, mentally, and what brings us all together, formulated or not. A worm and chemicals are released into Kris, she doesn’t become herself anymore, off and not knowing exactly why after being drugged, attempts to rid them of her body. Later, the “Thief,” the perpetrator removes this worm puts it in a pig, and sends her on her way. Kris eventually meets up with Jeff who she forms this bond with. It grows, like an organism, she feels love for him, whether that’s intrinsically true or not, they almost seem like one, arguing over the origin from each other of stories they’ve told. We cut back and forth with the “Thief” at his pig farm, his mad-scientist dealings and the havoc he’s wrought over her life. As her mind unravels and new things are discovered within her, she realizes she’s not the only one, and finds many other people who have been afflicted the same.
I’m dancing around some things, but it’s a film that should be experienced in its abilities to create connections, and explore what they truly mean, and how they shape and form relationships. That’s what Carruth does with these “scif-fi” elements, he grounds them and then shapes them into real-world applicable means, and shows off its universality. Carruth’s two films are almost like art-house sci-fi experiences, and I hope it takes less than nine years for Carruth to come out with his next.