Upstream Color


Upstream Color

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.



Total Count: 145


Audience Score

User Ratings: 12,735
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Movie Info

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

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Kathy Carruth
as Orchid Mother
Meredith Burke
as Orchid Daughter
Frank Mosley
as Husband
Brina Palencia
as Woman in Club
John Walpole
as Bank Investigator
David Little
as Veterinarian #1
Julie Anne Mayfield
as Veterinarian #2
Ben Le Clair
as The Sampled
Gerald Dewey
as The Sampled
Leticia Magaña
as The Sampled
Rebecca Waldon
as The Sampled
Lindsey Roberts
as The Sampled
Cody Pottkotter
as The Sampled
Julie Santosuosso
as The Sampled
Steve Jimenez
as The Sampled
Jack Watkins
as The Sampled
Ted Ferguson
as The Sampled
Julie Ferguson
as The Sampled
Karen Jagger
as The Sampled
Wendy Welch
as Neighbor
Tony Tamaj
as Intern #1
Tommy Watson
as Security Guard
Joe Cutler
as Grocery Store Clerk
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Critic Reviews for Upstream Color

All Critics (145) | Top Critics (39) | Fresh (125) | Rotten (20)

  • 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.

    Jan 3, 2014 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Dec 17, 2013 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Dec 17, 2013 | Rating: A- | Full Review…

    Eric Kohn

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

    Dec 17, 2013 | Rating: A- | Full Review…
  • Should you see Upstream Color? A better question may be: How many times should you see it?

    Dec 17, 2013 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…
  • Baffling, intoxicating, elegant, Shane Carruth's long-overdue follow-up to Primer is among the year's best.

    Aug 29, 2013 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Upstream Color

  • Apr 17, 2018
    Shane Carruth is genetically interlinked to Neil Breen via a pig's orchid maggot-infested brain parasite fantasy projection. I never anticipated writing anything about this movie, so I will try to keep this short. Mr. Carruth has demonstrated in both this and his previous effort Primer that he is sorely lacking in acting chops regardless of his eye behind the camera, and while Upstream Color upstages its predecessor in both color and composition, not even Emmanuel Lubezki could have poetically swooped in and made this an enjoyable experience. Upstream Color has finally shown me what the hell people mean when they say an "art" film is pretentious. Not even Terrence Malick has tried to pull such a f"art"-fest of disjointed, aimlessly pseudo-intellectual sequences out of his ass. As the movie stands, it is a counterpoint to Philip K. Dick's "A Scanner Darkly". It posits that there is a hopeful world beyond psychological discombobulation regardless of blue flower chemicals screwing up your perception. The fact that the drugs seem to be mental performance enhancers that lead you to meet the love of your life while leaving you completely susceptible to suggestion could either be interpreted as a plus or a minus, but judging by the performances herein, the overwhelming consensus would be that loving someone is akin to doping up and losing your mind so you can squander whatever is left of your life with a person who mumbles over your stammering banter while you wallow fetal-positioned in the squalor of each other's broken failures. Damn, that's a pretty accurate take on love now that I think about it. On the other hand, loving someone might seem like divine providence or even destiny in this upside-down world where you share a brain maggot with pigs. Oh dear God make this providence stop! Not even Godard in all of his drugged out misogynist fantasies could have contrived a more materialistic and pessimistic interpretation of the mechanism of love. But it's pretty because she hugged the cute little pig at the end. Everyone is unfulfilled in the film. Everyone who watches the film is unfulfilled. Art imitates life. Life imitates art. Here: soft focus on the browned chunks of strawberry pop-tart that I vomited onto the rim of my backed up toilet.........It's my latest composition..........I call it "upstream color".
    K Nife C Super Reviewer
  • Aug 03, 2016
    Officially the weirdest movie i have ever seen. Don't go in thinking you will "get it" on your first viewing, because you won't. Beautiful cinematography and top notch editing make this art house film one to remember, and possibly understand, on further viewings.
    Peter B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 01, 2014
    Strange, profoundly abstract, and inaccessible on a narrative level, Upstream Color is a hard film to describe, and a chore to analyze. The film revolves around an unlikely couple, who both share a bizarre affliction from an obscure organism. It's a film that is not concerned with coherence, with traditional narrative, or with resolution. Like Tree of Life, it's a film that requires a complete surrender in order to be appreciated. In that sense, what success Upstream Color achieves is because of your pure immersion in its nebulous and chillingly veiled world. Trying to follow Upstream Color in a narrative sense is a fairly impossible task, especially on its first viewing. This inaccessibility was frustrating, at first, but waned after the film's daring, bold, and spellbinding atmosphere took center stage. When taken on its own terms, the film is an entertaining experience. The score is magnificent, accentuating the narrative, and taking the place of the sparse dialogue. Director Shane Carruth is masterful in his editing, seamless in his cuts, and brilliant in his pace. We are shown a series of captivating scenes and images, with little to no sense of context or place, only to be left mesmerized. The film gets away with doing this both because of the skill of its composition, but also in that its clues start to paint a larger mosaic towards the end, pointing to a picture which starts to emerge. The characters in Upstream Color feel real, and are very well portrayed. We see the enormous struggles they've gone through, the confusion they face every day, and yet the resilience they show. The "sampler" character in particular is very enigmatic, embodying the film as a whole. Carruth does a good job keeping the attention focused on these characters, such that we resonate with their journey, even though we don't understand what is exactly taking place. My obvious reservation about Upstream Color is that the film is too inaccessible. It's difficult to distinguish illusion from reality, even at the ending of the film. Without a more refined ending, the film's interpretations are simply too large. Had a little more been explained, the film could still have kept its mystique, while allowing for greater audience appreciation. 4/5 Stars
    Jeffrey M Super Reviewer
  • Feb 24, 2014
    Things are going upstream, and they're colorful, so from what this title is telling me, this should be a rather uplifting film, right? Well, in all fairness, these characters are going upstream in a creek, without a paddle, so I guess the title should sort of let you know what to expect. Hey, there is a degree of joy to be had here, because whether you like Shane Carruth's overly experimental films or not, it's nice when someone turns out to be alive. Well, don't get too excited yet people, because he might kill himself yet if he directs, writes, produces, edits, scores, designs, casts for, and stars in yet another film, as such an unreasonably, but admittedly cost-efficient series of jobs is apparently so stressful that Carruth, I don't know, slipped into a coma or something after "Primer", back in 2004. Man, he hasn't been around in a whopping nine years, though I don't know if I can so much blame a coma, or whatever it is that's been holding him up on working too hard as hard as I can blame, say, Carruth actually watching one of his films. Boy, this guy can sure make cinema so slow that not even he can stay awake through it, and if you don't believe me, just look at the poster in which he... I don't know, fell asleep in the tub... or something. Hey, there's a certain elegance to that poster, but not even the marketing is all that focused, so you know that this film gets to be misguided, which isn't to say that it doesn't have aspects worthy of, not simply complimenting, but praising. As you can imagine, there's not much for the performers to work with in this abstract character meditation that is much more focused on style over substance and characterization, but for what they're given to do, these talented relative unknowns prove to be more effective than the offscreen performances, and that particularly goes for leading lady Amy Seimetz, whose subtle emotional layers and near-haunting atmosphere sell some of the more distinctly dramatic elements in the non-narrative. About as, if not more emotively effective as highlights in the performances is, of all things, Shane Carruth's score, which may not be particularly dynamic, but remains absolutely outstanding in its impeccably tasteful techno-ambience, which, more often than not, warmly carries the ethereal thoughtfulness of the more quiet meditative moments, without all of the tedious dryness, whose prominence reflects an underusage of the musical artistry, especially in comparison to the visual artistry. Just as it is a remarkable musical experience, - when the score is actually utilized, that is - this film is admittedly nothing short of a triumph of visual style, for Carruth, as cinematographer, takes notes from and, in some places, improves upon Emmanuel Lubezki's recent efforts with Terrance Malick with near-spotless definition behind bitingly crisp lighting and breathtakingly profound coloration that, while consistently beautiful, is richly dynamic in its particular style, often complimented by nifty framing and shaky cam plays that may be too experimental to immerse you in the film's plot, but surely immerses you in the film's environment. I almost hate to admit it, considering my not liking the film, but it's hard to see another film of 2013 being this visually spectacular, and when you couple the visual artistry with the musical artistry, a haunting aesthetic value is crafted, playing an instrumental role in securing the final product from contempt, but not without being well-utilized by genuine strengths in Carruth's efforts as director. Carruth's directorial efforts, like the efforts of many other film "artists" like him, are much more misguided than bad, for although Carruth's non-storytelling and punishing dryness are too questionable to be endearing, stylish editing and clever plays on Pete Horner's sound mixing and editing help in drawing you into the film, while a celebration of the aforementioned musical and visual strengths have their moments of effectiveness which move as a reflection of a much more realized drama. At the very least, Carruth's artistic ambition charms, not so much pretentiously demanding your respect, but carrying a heart to it that is endearing at times, especially when inspiration meets ambition and delivers, at least aesthetically. There's something very Terrance Malick about this film, and, quite frankly, that just goes to show you how subtle touches can make all the difference in films like this, because where Malick feels controlled enough in his plays with film artistry of this type to compel serviceably, maybe even reward, through all of the misguided artistry, this effort goes a few steps too far and falls flat, not even giving you the courtesy of coherency within flesh-out. Seeing as how there's no real plot to humor with characterization or any kind of development of that sort here, it should come as absolutely no real surprise that this abstract meditation is lacking in expository depth, but there's still something pretty aggravating about this drama's telling you nothing about its characters, pseudo-narrative, or mythology, and distancing you with a lack of development about as much as a lack of coherency, even in its artistic liberties. The film is certainly unusual in its structure, but you've no idea just how unusual it is in its mythology, for although I suppose the film gets a good bit more grounded gets a little more grounded once Shane Carruth, as a lead performer, comes into play, the film backs set piece after set piece with bizarre imagery, figures and happenings that rarely, outside of the bare minimum of ways, connect, and could be easier to forgive if the film didn't seem to take its silliness so blasted seriously, often to the point of overplaying symbolism in an unsubtle fashion, that is, when thematic depth actually stands. I don't know if this film is trying to say something so unconventionally that you can't get a grip on the themes, or if the film is saying anything at all, but either way, in spite of the occasional subtlety issue, I can't particularly tell what is trying to be said, for the film is ultimately way too abstract with its overwhelming strangeness, made all the more annoying by strange experimentations' even plaguing the non-narrative's structure. Again, "storytelling", if you will, becomes a little more grounded around the film's body, but this effort, as well as being underdeveloped and overblown with style over substance, is more-or-less utterly unfocused, initiating something of a progression at times, only to swiftly abandon a potential extended plot for the incorporation of yet more aimless set pieces, as well as lapses in narrative consistency, until style completely overtakes substance. It's very difficult to come close to fully describing the level of strangeness and abstractionism to this artistically overblown affair, but I believe I can simply say that the final product is all but devoid of coherency, having no focus to development, consistency or structure to compel all that much, and adding the ultimate insult to injury with sheer dullness. When I said that this film takes its silliness too seriously, I meant that, on top of being misguided in its structure, the film is ethereal to the point of being tedious, underplaying kicks in artistic value, if not abusively misusing them to further, not so much immerse, but entrance in a manner that is not compensated for with effectiveness enough to be more than, well, frustratingly boring. The film stands to be more frustrating, and were it to make the fatal move that other abstract art films of its nature make and substitute the charm of its artistic ambitions with out-and-out pretense which demands your investment, rather than requests it, the final product would have easily collapsed as contemptible, and yet, no matter how charming or difficult to judge this film is is in its artistry, - which still excels in plenty of respectable ways - it is still a misguided misfire that is undeveloped, overly bizarre, incoherent and, of course, boring, and through all of my admiration of its aesthetics, I cannot begin to recommend this aggravating abuse of artistic license. Once the color has finally flowed away, strong performances, extraordinary score work, phenomenal cinematography and effective moments in at least charmingly ambitious artistic direction leave the final product to drift from contemptibility, but overt underdevelopment, strangeness, focal inconsistency and tedious dryness reflect an overblown abstractionism which renders Shane Carruth's "Upstream Color" a mediocrely misguided experiment in abstract filmmaking. 2/5 - Weak
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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