Monday, April 6, 2015

Upstream Color

It's an odd sensation, watching a movie and simultaneously thinking that you understand it but you don't really get it; you can follow it but you know you're missing out on all kinds of stuff. That's how I felt when I watched Upstream Color. It's beautiful, it's hypnotic, it's disorienting and unusual. I tried to describe the basic premise to my husband after I watched it and I found that I couldn't compose sentences to convey my thoughts. In fact I really have no idea why I'm writing about it, except that I liked it so much and I'm hoping that, by writing about it, I might be able to better understand why I liked it. Maybe I'll even be able to explain my reasons for liking it to other people.

A woman, Kris (Amy Seimetz), is knocked unconscious by a drug dealer, dragged into an alley and forced to ingest a powerful hallucinogenic larva. Kris is subsequently held captive and subjected to a series of exercises that show that she is not in command of her thoughts, feelings or actions while under the influence of the hallucinogen. She is eventually released but the life she once knew is gone. Everything she made for herself has been taken from her. Even Kris herself seems, at times, to be a wholly different person, or at least one who has been fundamentally altered by her experience. She begins the slow process of reacclimating and building a new life for herself. One day she is approached by a stranger, a man named Jeff (Shane Carruth), who is drawn to her because he has had a similar experience. They become romantically involved but their affection for one another seems both genuine and manufactured, a by-product of their shared experience. Though they are seemingly free they are still affected by the outside influences that initially threw both of their lives into such disarray. 

Or, at least, that was how I interpreted it. I have turned this story over in my head dozens of times since I watched it. I thought about watching it a second time before writing about it but decided I wanted to go ahead and share my initial thoughts before I revisit the story. Because I may come away with an entirely different take on the whole thing after a second viewing. There have been moments throughout the day, as I've tried to decide what I wanted to say about this movie, when I've wondered if I wasn't overthinking it. I'll think I've got it figured but then I'll remember something I'd previously forgotten and think to myself "Hold up; how does that factor into it?" I do know that Upstream Color made an enormous emotional impression upon me and its theme of shared experience and interconnectedness resonated in an especially powerful way. I thought Shane Carruth was excellent as Jeff and, when I realized afterwards that he not only starred in but also wrote, directed and scored the film I was both impressed and moved, because it leant the whole thing an additional patina of intimacy. I thought Amy Seimetz was absolutely astonishing as Kris. Like many of my favorite performances the role demands a tremendous level of versatility because Kris suffers tremendous emotional and psychological upheavals. Seimetz aces the hurdles of the role in a way that is graceful, believable and nuanced. Kris felt very real and I felt very connected to her and her experiences as I was watching.

Upstream Color is an incredibly unique, beautifully rendered movie. I appreciate the initial impression it made upon me but I also look forward to revisiting it and seeing what I take away from additional viewings, because I have a feeling this one still a lot more to offer me.

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