Film review: The Marvelous Riddle of ‘Upstream Color’

Upstream Color 4This review is skeletal at best, but with good reason: It’s been three weeks since I viewed the cinematic kaleidoscope created by Shane Carruth called Upstream Color and I still can’t tell you what it’s about in any linear sense. That’s exactly why I enjoyed it, though.

Carruth’s new feature is his second; Primer (2004) was completed on just $7,000 by the engineer-turned-filmmaker, and its novel look at time travel, a new twist on playing the market and the quandary of creating double-selves has become the stuff of indie movie legend. Now comes 96 minutes of science fiction (between family, friends and others he’s got more resources in front of and away from the camera this time) where worms control and pigs develop a mental bond with humans. Yep, it’s that kind of experience.

Upstream Color 1The official website for Upstream Color is as different from other Internet portals pitching movies as the film is from other pictures playing at local multiplexes (though as of today Upstream Color is appropriately streaming onto one of Belcourt Theatre’s screens). Oh yes, there are “money quotes” from reviewers praising the film and pictures that media organs like ArtsNash can use to pretty up their pages, but there’s also a pre-order link for online streaming and HD downloads of the film that will be available May 7.

Why do that after screenings at Sundance and in theaters across the country? Well, Carruth has given various answers to different interviewers during a publicity tour for the film, but while I enjoy watching and downloading movies to my electronic devices I still think you should check it out on the big screen; I bet Carruth’s images and music are more powerful and potent as I saw them at the press screening than they will be at someone’s home, even if that person has a big widescreen HDTV and a terrific audio system.

Upstream Color 2I relished the experience of watching Carruth, Amy Seimetz and others act out the moments that Carruth wrote, directed, photographed, co-edited and scored; sure, there are times when I want a film to merely entertain me, but there are plenty of occasions when I want to be engaged, intrigued and even provoked. Upstream Color is not an empty emotional experience that only ignites the intellect; there’s hope and even love among the scenes that unfold from a lens where no orthodox views of our world are allowed.

I’m going to turn this over to the filmmaker himself; let him whet your appetite for his work and then go see it (there are some film clips at the bottom of this post if you’d like to catch some glimpses of the actual movie). And if you decide you can figure out more about its meaning than me, great; I’d love to hear or read your thoughts on this singular cinematic artist:





Upstream Color 3Upstream Color ( opens today (May 3) in Nashville at Belcourt Theatre (2102 Belcourt Ave.) This film is not rated, 96 min. Written and directed by Shane Carruth. Starring Shane Carruth, Amy Seimetz, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins, Kathy Carruth and Meredith Burke.



*Photos and videos courtesy ERBP Film.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (