A dystopian romance in which two damaged people find their way to one another, Shane Carruth's Upstream Color is mysterious, beautifully shot, and far from inept. Carruth shot and edited the film himself, creating a cracked-mirror narrative that gradually pieces itself together. But beware the allure of the quasi-experimental one-man show: There’s a stream of pretension bubbling beneath the assured surface. Almost midway through a man named Jeff, played by Carruth, approaches a woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) on a train in an unnamed city. Jeff and Kris strike up a tentative romance, pushed forward by fractured conversations and fracturing jump cuts. By this point in the film, we already know-- as much as we know anything for sure-- that an unnamed man has slipped Kris a narcotic made from what appear to be grubs. He kidnaps and brainwashes her; another mysterious figure, perhaps a scientist, a musician, or both (he's played by Andrew Sensenig and referred to as "the Sampler" in the credits) comes to her rescue. Or does he? His plan for her involves an anesthetized pig, some crude surgery, and a possible melding of plant, animal, and human life. Thoreau's Walden figures in there, too. To be bewildered by Upstream Color is to be human; the story is obtuse by design, though the filmmaking is X-Acto precise. The movie’s chief lament can be summed up pretty succinctly: We're disconnected from nature and each other. That idea is played out best in Seimetz's performance, the movie’s most affecting component. Her eyes are only half-blank—Seimetz makes sure there are flickers of life.
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