What'd I Say
“Science fiction,” “horror,” “bold,” “rich,” “nuanced,” “transcendent,” “thriller,” “romantic,” “impassioned” are among snookered reactions. But so soft-focus is Shane Carruth’s praised anticipated Upstream Color that any adjectives might be applied except “coherent” and “bearable.” Cuts in mid-scene and –sentence add to muddled mystification, while mumbles of uninflected dialogue -- “What’d you say?” among the few decipherable and pertinent lines -- pile on the pretentiousness that invites the bewildered ticket-purchaser to suss out meaning.
The writer-director also Vincent Gallo-ishly coproduced, edited, photographed and scored this second film which is a marked departure from his 2004 début. A tad too categorically, Susan Sontag wrote that “only that which narrates can make us understand.” But this Sundance, Berlin, SXSW, and Lincoln Center-MoMA New Directors/New Films entry disdains a backstory, refuses to remain in any single present long enough to explain itself, and closes with a Geiko piglet being baby-cuddled as though it were the future.
Post-screening opinions were unanimous only in confusion and, when pushed, differed widely about what had gone on, or not, during the pastel-colored ninety-six minutes. Taken all together into a composite picture, they gathered that some sort of maggoty-looking grubs somehow associated one time with some blue crystalline powder were in some way being put into selected human beings for some unclear if clearly nefarious purpose.
This transfer into living bodies, either subcutaneous or intravascular, may take place forcibly by means of a needle jab or maybe by ingestion of Quinoa Valley bottled water.
Slightly suspicious but undeniably infinitely bland hero Jeff (Carruth yet again) has had his broker’s license rescinded but still works for some kind of company which rewards him well in cash and kind off the books and appears to make scarcely any demands on him. Whether he is purposely set up to pursue heroine Kim (Amy Seimetz) or has his heart genuinely smitten by her is anyone’s guess, as they two are so inane, unemotional and at cross-purposes -- if there can be said to be any purposes -- that attraction is a miracle, much less their actually getting married to one another.
All of this is not for sure, just a composite from viewers pressed to come up with something to say. Jeff and Kim’s “story” is constantly intercut with muddy scenes of a pig farmer who does not much know or care about porkers but looks non-committaly sinister. When not finding out that, no, she is not pregnant and has in fact a damaged reproductive system that makes conception unlikely and carrying to successful term birth impossible, anyway, goggled Kim swims in an indoor pool to pick up unidentified pieces of what could be pods left behind from Cocoon.
Along with tricolor orchids in the pool and on exposed tree roots alongside a creek emblematic of something, there are potted plants and earth, white worms, kids and bicycles and whatnot. The two protagonists perhaps sense a vague something, and so dig under her skin and under their surprising suburban house and assume a John Lennon-Yoko Ono pose in the bathtub.
A host of 1950s real science fictions did better on implanted or ingested alien bodies or gizmos that take over their victims. Just for starters on a long list, see the originals of Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Enemies from Space, instead. Non-personality characters, pompous non-dialogue, and non-story render Upstream Color non-watchable. 7,545 and counting dead pigs found in China’s Huangpu River is a livelier, more interesting mystery.
(Released by Independent Pictures; not rated by MPAA.)