I was hesitant to write this review so soon after I finished watching this film (I watched it yesterday), because I still have a lot of mixed feelings about it. Upstream Color is Terrance Mallic- excuse me, Shane Carruth's second feature, that deals with a couple trying to reassemble their lives after they've been affected by a complex parasite.
This is a film that deserves multiple viewings if you wish to fully understand all the imagery and symbolism. I had difficulty just following the plot, because while it is linear, nothing is directly explained, and is instead left up to speculation. I typically like films like this, but I'm on the fence on this one. On one hand, Carruth does an excellent job creating evocative imagery, and blending his score with what's going on with the characters so the audience feels something - but the question I have is, "Is what the audience is feeling substantial to the plot or forced out of them by the score?" This is where I feel Carruth delves into Mallick territory, because I've always felt that Mallick can create feeling without substance, and I don't particularly like that.
I was also having difficulty following the plot, because it starts as the main female character, Kris, is being attacked and injected with this parasite, and being told what to do. Later on, Kris meets the male protagonist, Jeff (played by Carruth), who I thought sounded similar to Kris' attacker, so throughout the film, I was expecting this big secret to come out of how Jeff attacked Kris (possibly so they'd wind up together). Lo and behold, I check out the wikipedia after I finish the film, and Jeff is a completely different person, who was also attacked and injected with the parasite.
There's repeating imagery of pigs, orchids, and a heavy focus on sounds that accompany nature. I wish the film took the path of being a full on surreal experience, and focused more on these things, instead of going back and trying feebly to make sense. The funny thing about this film is there's some sequences I absolutely love, and I think are beautiful, but then there's others that I despise and think are trying too hard to squeeze feeling out where there is none. One sequence I love is where Kris is swimming underwater in an indoor pool, and she begins seeing orchids in the water, and when she grabs onto them, she has these visions of rocks and parasites and it's really interesting.
A sequence I hate is Carruth emulating Mallick where he has three characters walking in circles around each other in a room, staring each other down while swelling, uplifting strings play in the background. There is no subtext (at least that the audience could grasp) to get out of these sequences, and are large in part, why I can't stand most Mallick films, they're just people filled with angst staring at each other.
Carruth does deserve praise, however, for the fact that he was basically the leading man on both this film and his debut, Primer, on both of which he directed, wrote, acted, produced, filmed, edited, and scored. That takes quite a lot of work.
A review I had read of Carruth's work stated that he was the love child of David Lynch and James Cameron, and I actually think that's offensive to both Lynch and Cameron. Carruth has beautiful imagery down to a T, there's no doubt about that, but where he falters is having the clarity of Cameron or the poignancy of Lynch. As an experiment in film making, however, on it's own, Upstream Color is a very intriguing film. I don't know if I'll ever watch it again, because while it's a film that asks to be viewed multiple times, I'm not sure it's a film that deserves to be viewed multiple times.