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Upstream Color (2013)


Average Rating: 7.9/10
Reviews Counted: 134
Fresh: 113
Rotten: 21

Critics Consensus: 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.

Average Rating: 8.1/10
Reviews Counted: 35
Fresh: 29
Rotten: 6

Critics Consensus: 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.


Average Rating: 3.6/5
User Ratings: 10,856




Movie Info

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

Drama , Romance , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
In Theaters:
May 7, 2013
Box Office:
Independent Pictures/Metrodome Dist. - Official Site


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Critic Reviews for Upstream Color

All Critics (134) | Top Critics (35) | Fresh (113) | Rotten (21) | DVD (2)

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.

Full Review… | January 3, 2014
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
Washington Post
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | August 27, 2013
Time Out
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | May 9, 2013
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top 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."

Full Review… | April 9, 2014

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

Full Review… | February 20, 2014
Movie Mezzanine

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

Full Review… | January 22, 2014
The Verge

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.

Full Review… | January 2, 2014
Fan The Fire

An assured and artfully ragged mosaic of glassy nonlinearity.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
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.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
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.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
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.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
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.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Mystifyingly cryptic yet oddly hypnotic.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013

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

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
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.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
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.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
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.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013

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.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013
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.

Full Review… | December 8, 2013
Laramie Movie Scope

Audience Reviews for Upstream Color

Upstream Color is an idea. The idea serves to solve no purpose other than to simply be an idea. Shane Carruth's idea. It's impossible for me not to address the backlash he and Upstream Color received on release, the argument that nothing happened is nonsense (everything happened) and that it is boring is unfair. The film is unlimited in what it has to offer, it's okay not to be interested in something but if you find nothing for you in this film that is of interest I would argue that you are the limited one. To be fair though, don't watch it tired. Watch it while fresh. I'm quite passionate about this one as it's not often that cinema is this original. I do not believe Carruth is trying to alienate anyone or to be a smarty pants, he is simply developing a new way of thinking and a refreshing new way of telling a story. The thought process is intelligent and bizarre but it does highlight many aspects of our lives that are just as strange that we regard as perfectly normal. The scenes whereby the characters start to realise what is happening to them are awesome. The film seems to capture elements from every genre and yet be without genre, making it truly original. The cinematography is spectacular and almost seems like a bonus. It's a joy from beginning to end, I felt spoiled after watching it even though I've been waiting for something this fresh and unique to come out for ages.

Anthony Lawrie

Super Reviewer

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.

Matthew Slaven
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.

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.

Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

Upstream Color Quotes

I want to go where you go.
– Submitted by Rodrigo A (11 months ago)
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 (18 months ago)

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