Pigs figure heavily in Upstream Color, the sophomore feature from writer-director Shane Carruth. Though Carruth allows us one scene of a woman cuddling with a piglet, the experimental film also includes swine being bagged for an unpleasant fate, a weird surgery in which a human and hog are psychically joined and time-lapse footage of a drowned and decomposing pig. In addition to the swine, this disorienting and non-narrative film also includes a kidnapping, a romance and some squirmy, mind-altering grubs. Make sense? It probably shouldn’t. With its elliptical narrative, swooning visual aesthetic and hushed dialogue and narration, the film feels like Terrence Malick tackling dystopian sci-fi. It centers, mostly, on a woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) who is drugged, with those mind-altering grubs, by a character identified only as Thief. While forcing her to copy Walden by hand, Thief cons Kris out of her money and her sense of identity. Oh, and there’s also that operation with the pig. When Kris wakes up, she becomes entwined with disgraced stockbroker Jeff (Carruth), who may or may not have had the same experience, but who definitely understands her need to dive for rocks at swimming pools and to hide in bathtubs after finding curious brass objects. Though ultimately secondary to the mesmerizing visuals and ambient score, the plot is surprisingly engaging, which prevents Upstream Color from becoming a formal obscurity too arch for its own good. You’re free to debate what it all means; I’m happy to lose myself in its messy mystery.
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- Release Date: Tuesday, April 16, 2013
- Critic's Score: B
- Watch the trailer