I recently complained that the three most recent 'Star Trek' movies, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Nemesis, all ripped off what is considered the best 'Star Trek' movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). It wasn't until I saw Upstream Color, which also rips off an idea from the 1982 film, that I realized what a touchstone or landmark in sci-fi cinema The Wrath of Khan actually was. If any one remembers the beginning of The Wrath of Khan and what happens to the character of Chekov, that same kind of horror also befalls the character of Kris in Upstream Color.
I think Shane Carruth fancies himself a sci-fi version of Terrence Malick. Yet, I think I prefer To The Wonder over this. Primarily, Carruth intentionally or not apes some Malick visuals, but, overall, Upstream Color is not as great to watch as Malick's cinematography.
Despite the word being in the title, color is not as pronounced or as interesting in Carruth's visuals. Ironically, Carruth focuses more on sound. A general wave of emotion is conveyed through the soundtrack. Carruth even provides way more dialogue than Malick, much of it functioning as narration, but still I was able to glean more from Malick's virtual wordlessness than I did anything that Carruth does.
Oddly, I had the same problem here as I did with Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects. The first third of the movie is quite compelling, but then it takes a turn and the rest of it becomes messy. Upstream Color begins as a thriller, a kidnapping and brainwashing scheme to get money. Instead of digging deeper into this thriller plot or expanding it further, Carruth drops it for a half-hearted love story and really odd metaphor.
The image that Carruth invokes equating humans to guinea pigs is a good one. Besides the visual comparison, Carruth does little more with it. Carruth shows the connection that humans can and do have to animals, but there seems to be no purpose to making that connection. Given that one of Carruth's characters quotes Henry David Thoreau, the purpose might be to get us to appreciate nature, as Thoreau did, but so what?
Malick's To The Wonder had considerably less narrative than Carruth, but I was never bored by the images Malick strung together, even when he was being highly repetitive. When Carruth was being blatantly repetitive, I got quickly bored to death.
Amy Siemetz stars as Kris, a young woman who becomes the unwilling victim of an experiment-turned-manipulation. She has her life upended, but she meets Jeff, played by Shane Carruth, who seems to be another victim of the same experiment. The two fall in love. Never am I totally convinced of that love. The movie intercuts with another random couple, a sound recordist, as well as the life and times of some pigs.
It doesn't help that a few of the main characters act like puppets, but a lot of it feels wooden with not a lot of emotion. I never cared or had much affection for these people.
Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended 14 and Up.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 37 mins.