Monday, May 6, 2013

@NOFS Review: "Upstream Color"

It feels a little awkward to compare a one of a kind film to anything else. Somehow, by putting it side by side with a similar movie - maybe one that is highly regarded - you are putting your knowledge of cinema and ability to express that knowledge on the line. An argument can be made about almost anything, but can you be convincing? Basically, you’ll either be thought of in a scholarly manner, or looked at as a weirdo from Room 237.

With that, I will now make the following case: Upstream Color is the successor to Inland Empire.

This is difficult for me, as David Lynch’s Inland Empire is one of my all time favorite films. On the surface, it is a 3 hour trial of confounding and crazy scenes; beneath all of that, it is an “Alice in Wonderland” meets Sunset Boulevard style odyssey. Lynch started his career by taking 5 years to shoot a black and white film, and may have concluded it by taking several years to shoot with Sony PD150’s. Everything has come full circle.

Along with coming full circle is the end. And, with every end comes a new beginning. Shane Carruth’s sophomore feature Upstream Color might not be as long as Lynch’s digital opus, but it’s a bit more absorbing. Oh, and just as confusing.

The tagline “A woman in trouble” was used to promote Empire, but the same could be said of Color. A young woman is drugged with a parasite, and hypnotized into giving all of her money to a thief. Coming out of her stupor, she forms a relationship with a man that may have also been infected. At the same time, a farmer who makes noize albums puts these extracted parasites into pigs, and observes the memories of former victims. The woman finds that her thoughts and feelings are shared somehow, and looks to solve this mystery.

The female leads in this and Empire share some things in common: both are in the movie industry, both get brainwashed, both experience the emotions of others and both confront their respective villains with a gun. The journey in Color might not be like at the end of a certain rabbit hole, but the stars do go through an Alice type adventure.

Everything is meticulously shot and designed, and executed in a very free flowing manner; scenes that don’t appear to make sense at first, feel as if they must soon afterwards because of the construction. There is a wonderful sequence where the farmer cuts from walking amongst pigs to walking around a married couple. The husband is cold to his wife, and the farmer sees the man’s regret when the wife becomes ill. All without leaving the farm. This is more than just a Body Snatchers adaptation, folks.

I think that Inland Empire was more than an expression of wacky ideas - it was a challenge for someone to one up it. An open invitation to grab the torch, if you will. It took some years, but Upstream Color did it. Where Empire was a horror showing a traditional hero tale, Color is a sci fi that depicts connections between people, environments and emotions. Both are similar in their creative obtuseness, but only Color can be said to have loftier goals. Success has been achieved.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there with movie discussions, but do be careful and elaborate as much as possible. Now, I pass this next case onto you: Shane Carruth is the successor to David Lynch.

5/5 *s

The New Orleans Film Society will be presenting Upstream Color from May 19th - 21st at Chalmette Movies. Click here for more information.

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