Are you ready?” asks a peripheral figure at the start of Shane Carruth’s second film as writer/director/ producer/ editor/ composer/ star.
Seeing as his first was the dizzyingly complex time-travel classic Primer (2004) and Upstream Colour is even harder to follow – part love story, part biological conspiracy – the , appropriately, is “no.”
This is what we think happens.
After being kidnapped, drugged and implanted with a mysterious organism by the thief (Thiago Martins), traumatised Kris (Amy Seimetz) begins an affair with shell-shocked Jeff (Carruth).
Together, they’re threatened by sinister forces that might be emanating from inside or out, and shady secondary characters such as a foley artist called the Sampler (Andrew Sensenig), who might be an agent of evil, a figment of their imagination, or both. A good proportion of the supporting cast are definitely piglets.
Even if you don’t know what’s going on, you rarely doubt that Carruth knows exactly what he’s doing.
Combining flickering images of man versus nature with a faltering soundtrack, he creates a film of extraordinary fractured beauty.
When the elements coalesce (albeit occasionally), there are patterns for the patient-minded.
In Carruth’s universe, nature is vital and spreading (blooming flowers, wriggling maggots, those rampaging porkers), while human spaces are desolate and empty (like Jeff’s abandoned hotel); the things that bind us together as fragile as the paper chains that recur throughout.
You’ll be pushed to follow the individual narrative links, but the overall effect is of a multilayered meditation on how we connect with the world around us, as signalled by quotations from Thoreau’s transcendentalist book Walden.
Carruth is the cinematic equivalent of the Sampler, who collects found sounds and tries to make sense of them.
As this virtuoso performance plays out, what will be a cacophony for some will be a symphony for others.