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Upstream Color

Entry updated 16 February 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2012). erbp. Written and directed by Shane Carruth. Cast includes Meredith Burke, Carruth, Kathy Carruth, Thiago Martins, Amy Seimetz and Andrew Sensenig. 96 minutes. Colour.

A conceptual designer (Seimetz) is infected with a mind-controlling Parasite (see Parasitism and Symbiosis) by a thief (Martins) who empties her accounts and leaves her with no memory of her ordeal; she and other victims are Telepathically farmed for their experiences by a composer of ambient music (Sensenig) who transfers the parasites to a herd of pigs linked to the parasite's victims, until the lingering psychic bond, manifested in a partial Identity Exchange, draws her to a second Amnesiac survivor (Carruth) who helps her to turn the tables, liberate their fellow victims, and break the life cycle of the parasite and its various exploiters.

Carruth's eerie second feature has much of the narrative obliquity of his debut Primer (2004), with which it shares a signature style of very fast shots pregnant with information and much of the actual plot consigned to the gaps. This time, however, it is the characters who are excluded from full access to the complex narrative armature, and the audience who are in on the secret. The film's conceptual engine is an organism whose full Ecological lifecycle is gradually revealed to the viewer, but with different stages locally known to three secretive and mutually unknown communities of experts who manipulate its effects to variously innocuous or sinister ends. The stream of the title, though literally rendered in the film, is also the stream of causality whose ultimate source remains permanently out of reach; the film's hauntingly persuasive argument is that in all systems, whether in nature or in the shaping and deformation of human lives, there is always an element further upstream than investigation is able to penetrate. Though the victims track down and liberate the pig farm, the thief walks free at the end undetected and unpunished, his only comeuppance the loss of his access to a source for the parasite and thus of future victims. Filmmakers Seimetz (who has acted extensively) and Carruth (who has not) are chillier in their roles than the emotional intensity of their story seems to hope, but are well served by the fractured naturalism of Carruth's highly distinctive dialogue writing, and the editing by David Lowery (himself a highly rated Texan independent filmmaker) is particularly impressive. [NL]


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