Upstream Color is a beautifully experimental film exploring man’s relationship with nature and at the same time human relationships and love. From there, the film honestly was difficult to understand and, from the brief commentaries I’ve read, it’s supposed to be that way.
Shane Carruth’s (Primer) film festival darling starts with a woman infected with a parasite in her blood stream and evolves from there to a story of survival, independence and the themes I mentioned above, if you choose to interpret it that way.
Carruth, in addition to writing and directing the film, stars in it as Jeff, who later falls in love with the infected woman, Kris.
The film takes a turn from the plot about Kris to their relationship and fight against the world, but there are many other subplots going on that I know fit, but again, didn’t comprehend.
It’s actually a film that I feel okay about not understanding because I think it’s meant to be experienced as a visual film as much as it is a literary exploration of some deep ideas bordering on science fiction.
Carruth effectively balances science fiction with a story about love and presents a project you can appreciate at any level. I think it’s a film worth watching again, for people who have the time (not me), to experience what other themes and meanings stand out without reading any of the analysis available in many places on the Internet first.
Henry David Thoreau’s Walden has a strong presence in the film, both in readings by Kris’ character and physical copies in many scenes. That, combined with many scenes in and about nature, presented the theme that exploring how humans fit into nature was one of Carruth’s ideas.
Overall, I like the choose your own adventure style of Upstream Color. Its story is piecemeal and, as I said, can be interpreted at any level of depth and intensity you like or just taken at face value as visually mesmerizing artwork expressing the magic of film and storytelling.