"Upstream Color" definitely features a young woman being brainwashed with psychotropic maggots. She definitely meets a man who lives in hotel rooms. And the pair of them definitely go on a hallucinatory odyssey which involves orchids, Thoreau’s "Walden", and piglet surgery. Beyond that, being definite about Shane Carruth’s psychedelic romantic sci-fi horror mystery is next to impossible.
Written, directed, co-produced, shot and scored by Carruth, and co-starring him too, "Upstream Color" has stretches of lucid thriller-like narrative, but elsewhere it fragments into the kind of abstract montage you’d see in a contemporary art gallery. It makes "Primer", the micro-budget time-travel puzzler Carruth released in 2004, look like a Disney movie.
It is possible to piece the story together into one coherent whole—with some help from the internet, anyway. But that’s hardly the point. However much of it you can or can’t follow on the first viewing, you’ll still be enthralled by its exhilarating ambition, intoxicating visuals, and abundance of Charlie Kaufman-esque ideas. And being confused by a film every now and then isn’t such a bad thing. As John Lennon almost said: turn on your mind, relax and float upstream. ~ Nicholas Barber
Upstream Color opens in Britain August 30th
FILM AT A GLANCE
The Great Beauty (Sept 6th). Prepare to be overwhelmed. Paolo Sorrentino makes a "Dolce Vita" for the Berlusconi era. And when it comes to party scenes, "The Great Beauty" beats "The Great Gatsby" any day.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints (Sept 6th). David Lowery: the new Terrence Malick? A gorgeous rural Texan crime drama. Casey Affleck breaks out of jail to be with his wife, Rooney Mara, and the daughter he’s never met.
The Artist and the Model (Sept 13th). Fernando Trueba’s black-and-white pastoral, set in Vichy France, may be slow, but it never stops thinking about art, war, ageing and mortality.
Blue Jasmine (Sept 27th). Woody Allen, back in Manhattan, with a psychodrama about a socialite (Cate Blanchett) on the verge of a nervous breakdown. His recent work is variable, but Blanchett in a lead role is a coup.
Diana (Sept 20th). Naomi Watts is the People’s Princess, with Douglas Hodge as her butler. No sign of Charles or Camilla. ~ NB