“Upstream Color” builds its narrative through brief impressionist bursts, without getting caught up in exposition or character biography or any of that stuff for very long. It cuts quickly from moment to moment, giving the viewer fragments of an event, sometimes placed out of sequence. The aim is a more realistic expression of the experience of an intimate relationship and it is, sometimes, breathtaking. Lush imagery and an excellent performance from Amy Seimetz are the best cards in its hand.
Wrapped up within this is a sci-fi element that ties the romance between Seimetz and (writer/director/composer/actor) Shane Carruth to a circle-of-life concept involving parasites and flowers and pigs that questions ideas about identity and choice. It’s an ambitious flick.
When it works, it’s unique, thought-provoking, and visually arresting. It doesn’t always work, though, because its editing and narrative choices become a little tiring over the course of a feature length. The frenetic editing and gorgeous lighting and color decisions evoke an ethereal quality, but maintaining that vibe for an hour-and-a-half creates real difficulties in forging meaningful connections with Seimetz’s and Carruth’s characters. The last act of the film – and the whole film’s thematic essence – relies squarely on an emotional catharsis that it hasn’t quite earned; the audience has been kept at a distance from the human component of the film for too long.