While intriguing and highly provocative, Upstream Color doesn’t deliver on the many promises it appears to make. Opting to give as little information as possible, thus allowing viewers to forge interpretations of their own, the film doesn’t have nearly the precedence of its first act to justify the range or degree of emotions held throughout the film. While I understand the basic notions of the life cycle, the communing of consciousnesses, and the relevance of sound, I kept wondering to myself what was the significance of all this. It’s interesting, but why should I care? In hopes of some clarity, abstractly or not, I was disappointed to find that the film did indeed fall flat, there was no great significance we were being led to, and with the many plot details left out, such as Jeff’s role amongst the pigs and Kris’ litter, it’s futile to propose a confident interpretation of the events.
Formally, the film is exhilarating from start to finish, making it that much more frustrating. While Carruth displays a rather meticulous cinematography and suspenseful rhythm, most of the editing is done in vain. While I recognize the comparisons to Malick, the major difference here is that Carruth’s film does not call for artistic stand-alone jump cuts that perpetuate origination. This technique merely occludes the meaning of Upstream Color’s juxtaposed images. I would question why one image is cross-cut with another, and while there are moments of brilliance, such as the piglets’ deaths and Kris shooting the Sampler, most of the cuts are arbitrary, contrived, and have no contextual relevance; they merely serve to disorient the viewer. It leaves us as unclear as the hazy mist or out of focus blur that Carruth often shows, which would be perfectly fine—even demanded—had the science fiction elements been supported by a stronger framework.
While ambitious and certainly thought provoking, I left the theater found wanting.