Upstream Color (2013) – Shane Carruth


Here’s another recent movie part of the current wave of other movies where characters are forced to reflect upon some event they witnessed. In this case, a group of people are part of a mass hypnosis project where they are given without consent scopolamine, the drug that removes willpower and under the command of a ‘controller’ they are coerced into submitting their money and possessions. Each operation takes a few days where the victim completely under hypnosis, goes to banks, takes out loans, and writes out cheques. When they regain consciousness, some days later, they have no recollection of the events.

Scopolamine is the scariest drug I’ve ever heard about, and as can be seen here, it actually comes from a flower that grows even in American forests. Whoever is administered the drug, according to real life accounts, is not only robbed to an extreme extent (property, life savings, credit margins), but also ends up killed.

This film assumes the victims survived the ordeal. We follow a couple, the woman, the token victim for the opening, and a man, who may not have been a victim but who undoubtedly underwent a trauma of his own.

The story being what it is, a kind of approximative detective story, with a neat and tidy solution, the filmmaker opts to build a puzzle out of the sequences so that we may step into the same world of loose associations and mirror images the protagonists find themselves in. Scenes bleed into each other, and events themselves seem like shuffled impressions, just like  a stack of papers falling after being thrown in the air.

But take notice of the romance that develops between the two characters. The way it goes counter to established notions of movie romance. It plays out like a long drawn out tug of war (each lover pulling AND being pulled), their union literally a vow to trust their own volition. This is miles away from the regular love story where the rationale for unity is something as vapid as a…pretty face.

There is not much sex, or even the essential cinematic properties–seduction and desire. Instead there is the devising of a hierarchical system of images, and a necessary symmetrical unity, to uncover an external mystery. Unlocking this secret matters, not merely for psychological repair, but for the process of discovery itself and the way identity is dissolved in it.

Something to watch with your lover if you are so lucky.


Categories: female leads, Notes

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