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Upstream Color (2013)

tomatometer

84

Average Rating: 7.9/10
Reviews Counted: 133
Fresh: 112 | Rotten: 21

As technically brilliant as it is narratively abstract, Upstream Color represents experimental American cinema at its finest -- and reaffirms Shane Carruth as a talent to watch.

84

Average Rating: 8/10
Critic Reviews: 32
Fresh: 27 | Rotten: 5

As technically brilliant as it is narratively abstract, Upstream Color represents experimental American cinema at its finest -- and reaffirms Shane Carruth as a talent to watch.

audience

70

liked it
Average Rating: 3.6/5
User Ratings: 10,217

My Rating

Movie Info

A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. (c) Official Facebook

Unrated,

Drama, Romance, Mystery & Suspense

May 7, 2013

$0.4M

Independent Pictures/Metrodome Dist. - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (133) | Top Critics (32) | Fresh (112) | Rotten (21) | DVD (2)

Carruth's visual approach, saved from abstraction by his own rapid, forward-leaping editing, is extremely assured. Seimetz is a fine and expressively haunted actress. I look forward to the enigmas in Carruth's next picture.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

If the movie is a bit of a mystery, so is Carruth.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: Entertainment Weekly
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Should you see Upstream Color? A better question may be: How many times should you see it?

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: Washington Post
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The most visually imaginative American film since David Lynch's Eraserhead.

August 27, 2013 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A cerebral, mournful mystery that resonates like a tuning fork struck on a far-off star.

May 9, 2013 Full Review Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It presents us with a glimpse of the vastness of existence, of our inner nature, and of nature without that is as equally dreadful, enveloping, and terrifying as it is beautiful.

May 3, 2013 Full Review Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The remarkable Amy Seimetz is as central to the film as women in Krzysztof Kieslowski's late films, like Irène Jacob in "Three Colors: Red" and "The Double Life of Véronique" or Juliette Binoche in "Three Colors: Blue."

April 9, 2014 Full Review Source: Newcity
Newcity

No amount of concentrated analysis can really explain the level of deep emotion that Upstream Color effortlessly evokes.

February 20, 2014 Full Review Source: Movie Mezzanine
Movie Mezzanine

Upstream Color is a trippy and enjoyable exploration of connections both direct and indirect.

January 22, 2014 Full Review Source: The Verge
The Verge

What the movie points to is worth following until you're left with an enormous map that you spend the rest of the drive trying to refold.

January 3, 2014 Full Review Source: Grantland
Grantland

It's evocative, but beneath the stylised direction and the mesmerising soundtrack, perhaps a little cold, like a concept album without a fully formed idea to drive it.

January 2, 2014 Full Review Source: Fan The Fire
Fan The Fire

An assured and artfully ragged mosaic of glassy nonlinearity.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: Sacramento News & Review
Sacramento News & Review

The miracle of Upstream Color is that a film so carefully and exquisitely composed can yield so many moments of open-ended cinematic rapture.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: Boston Phoenix
Boston Phoenix

However you watch it, it's a movie that will mean more for you if you don't worry about what's happening minute-by-minute and, instead, just let your mind wander as its muted images and snippets of dreamy poetry flow.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press
St. Paul Pioneer Press

Clearly, the film is intended as a tactile experience of poetic ideas, of modern disconnection and biophysical insecurity and existential doubt, and the clarity of these anxieties is bruising and stunning.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: Sight and Sound
Sight and Sound

Carruth deserves kudos for trying to stretch the language of film, and Kris and Jeff have some interesting moments of self-discovery, but the fragments never add up to much.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Mystifyingly cryptic yet oddly hypnotic.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: sbs.com.au
sbs.com.au

Iit's a film that I'd like to go back and look at again and give it a second go.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: At the Movies (Australia)
At the Movies (Australia)

It's not that it's not intriguing, but Carruth has withheld any sense of glue or cohesion or even a clue as to what he's getting at.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: At the Movies (Australia)
At the Movies (Australia)

You have to work a bit harder to put the pieces together and you're responsible for the answers, but the effort is paid back with an exhalation, a single expression on Kris' face and the recognition of it in your own.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: Film School Rejects
Film School Rejects

By abandoning the need for specific interpretation, Carruth nails the fundamental inscrutability of the universe while remaining in awe of it the whole way through.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: indieWIRE
indieWIRE

Thematically rich, layered and hypnotic, Upstream Color is a maddeningly abstract and romantic examination of love, who we are as lovers, what our love does to one another, and how that's connected to the nature of all things.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: The Playlist
The Playlist

In a world where there are music stores that sell CDs of worm music, telepathically connected worm people and pigs commune on a farm and plot their revenge against a mad scientist. Well, not really, but sort of.

December 8, 2013 Full Review Source: Laramie Movie Scope
Laramie Movie Scope

Audience Reviews for Upstream Color

Thankfully, the absurdity of this creative piece is set up at the very beginning, and it stays within its rules. Upstream Color is very abstract, requiring more patience and thought from the viewer. The couple in the movie poster are actually shadows of the real story, and it begs the question of Carruth's message. Perhaps it is directed at our dependence on the earth and animals, or maybe it is a metaphor of mankind's waning desire for an omnipresent deity. Any viewer who watches it to the end owes it to themselves to spend some time ruminating on what they see - whatever that is - and hopefully enjoy discussing it with others.
February 1, 2014
Matthew Slaven

Super Reviewer

Shane Carruth's "Upstream Color," which opens at the Cedar Lee Theatre on Friday, is easily one of the best films of the year. It engages intellectually but is also deeply emotionally satisfying. As opposed to Carruth's excellent breakthrough film "Primer," "Upstream" eschews fractal complexity for a relentlessly linear narrative. The film follows Kris (Amy Seimetz), a woman whose life is thrown into disarray after she is drugged by a thief and forced to give him every asset she owns. Kris works a numbing name-tag job until she meets Jeff (Carruth), a financier for whom she feels an inexplicable attraction and undeniable connection. Using that connection Carruth explores themes of self-determination, free will and the inexorable cycle of life. It wouldn't be hyperbolic to say that the film stands completely outside the modern cinematic idiom.

"Upstream Color" is striking in many ways, most prominently in how astoundingly precise it is. There isn't a single wasted frame in the film, and every shot is composed for maximum informational density. Our introduction to Kris and the particulars of her life and the way the thief methodically strips it of all monetary value is enthralling. There is no expository dialogue explaining how the thief's chemical hypnosis process works, but understanding is reached gradually through meticulously assembled imagery. The film demands careful attention and ardently resists passive consumption, but it isn't arduous to sit through. Its photography is so hauntingly beautiful and its sound design is so involving that watching the film is a sensory experience.

Because the film has such lush nature photography and ethereal soundtrack, it occasionally evokes the work of Terrence Malick. But "Upstream Color" has none of Malick's aimlessness. It's a film explicated on very specific ideas and there is a sense of fine craftsmanship that Malick's films, especially his later ones, do not share. In many was it's closer to the cerebral and focused films of Steven Soderbergh, but that comparison also feels off, because the film is far more experiential than anything Soderbergh has made. It's not that the film doesn't have antecedents but whatever influences Carruth is drawing from are almost totally sublimated into his finished work.

Carruth has said in interviews that the editing process of "Upstream Color" only took weeks, but it plays leaner and stronger than films that have been worked over for years. There is little dialogue in the film but what there is very well rendered. The thief's hypnotic instructions to Kris have the clarity and precision of a well-rehearsed albeit very strange speech, and the sequence where Kris and Jeff slowly realize their memories are no longer as singular as they once were feels as fraught and messy as everyday conversation. That mixture of unsettling and mundane permeates the whole film and the effect is beguiling.

Like a practiced magician, Carruth carries the audience through each scenario masterfully. Many scenes in the film start off unsettlingly obscure before slowly revealing context. A man explains that his head is made of the same material as the sun. A woman is instinctively drawn to a farmer who blares his recording into the ground. A chemical within a decaying carcass bonds and turns a white orchid blue. All of these things are connected and all of these things make sense within the film's spiraling narrative though not immediately. It's that temporary gulf between presentation and understanding that separates and elevates "Upstream Color" from everything else in theaters.
July 25, 2013
Mario M.
Mario L McKellop

Super Reviewer

A very interesting psycho-thriller that challenges us all to interpret its complex narrative and cryptic symbolism, even if the result is not exactly involving - and Carruth deserves a lot of credit for how he makes use of outstanding visual and auditory match cuts.
July 21, 2013
blacksheepboy

Super Reviewer

There's something to be said for experimental cinema. If you think the greatest transgression is when a filmmaker doesn't trust his audience to comprehend what's going on, you'll adore this. Upstream Color is a most cryptic story. The problem is that it is an agony to watch. The saga is made even more tortuous by the score, I absolutely hated it. It's a mind numbing combination of blaring horns, wind chimes, glass harps and ambient noise. Anyone familiar with "war on terror" tactics will know where I'm going with this. At first it's just eerie but over the course of 96 minutes it's music torture. Interspersed with these sonic blasts are scenes that recount a tale of sorts, often without words. The joy of the picture is the ability to put these puzzle pieces together and understand what the is going on. Those who can (which I did) are apparently supposed to sustain a sense of superiority over those who cannot. I did not feel this. What I felt was boredom. The acting is wooden, the conversations are routine, scene compositions are static, cinematography is mundane. If this was a developmental movie from a first year film student, I'd say interesting attempt. Some half formed ideas are addressed but remain unexplored. As a theatrical release, however, it is most unsatisfying experience.

fastfilmreviews.wordpress.com
July 21, 2013
hobster1

Super Reviewer

    1. Jeff: I want to go where you go.
    – Submitted by Rodrigo A (5 months ago)
    1. Thief: I have to apologize. I was born with a disfigurement where my head is made of the same material as the sun.
    – Submitted by Will M (12 months ago)
View all quotes (2)

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April 3, 2013:
Shane Carruth Upstream Color Interview
The writer/director/star weighs in on one of the year's better-reviewed independent films.

Foreign Titles

  • Upstream Color (UK)
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