Upstream Color is strongly inspired by Terence Malick’s filmography, whether it’s borrowing particular shots or themes – a hand gently brushing across a surface, a flock of birds silhouetted against a pale sky – or appropriating the feel of his films. The resemblance surprised me given director Shane Carruth’s last movie, the intensely intellectual time travel drama Primer; shot on an almost non-existent budget, the film was easy to respect but difficult to love, its knotty narrative leaving little room for emotion. Upstream Color, on the other hand, is a deeply emotional film.
Malick’s films often begin with concrete, straightforward narratives that are smudged into enigmatic poetry by his elliptical editing. Upstream Color has an incredibly detailed, specific storyline – something about psychic worms and pigs and Walden – beating under the surface, but it’s generally obscured by a focus on a dreamlike style and rhythm. I admit to not fully understanding the story; for me it resonated as a meditation on the transitory nature of identity, of being lost within the prison of one’s own self.
Upstream Color didn’t hit me quite as strongly as Malick’s best works, but it was an intriguing, thought provoking experience, and a film I’m eager to revisit.