If you don't enjoy being challenged or confused while watching a movie, feel free to stop reading now. Because Upstream Color could take a dozen watches to truly figure out its intricacies (not that many will be willing to do that). The tagline sure doesn't give anything major away: "A man and a woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives." If you said you knew exactly what the film was about after watching it, you'd be lying. But there are many possibilities: the connections people make with each other, the connections humans have with other animals and nature, the mutual craziness that comes with love, the technique of making film a more visceral watching experience. These are all viable ideas.
The plot basically concerns two people, though others play integral roles. Kris (Amy Seimetz), who works with computers, gets abducted by a man known as "Thief" and drugged with some form of larva (Thief shoots it down her throat) that completely alters her consciousness. Essentially, Thief now has complete control over Kris, and he makes her perform mundane tasks--like handwriting the book Walden page by page or taking sips of water--while he empties her bank accounts and the equity from her house. This first 30 minutes is the best and most intense part of Upstream Color. Once she is released from her trance, she is obviously completely devastated, remembering only tiny flashes of what exactly happened to her. Later, she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth, the director, writer, producer, cinematographer, composer, and production/sound designer of Upstream Color), who may or may not have experienced a very similar situation.
An easy comparison, in terms of the direction, is Terrence Malick, whose films have a dream-like quality that you experience rather than just watch. It's the same way here with Carruth's creation: nearly every shot and every sound is filmed in a way which is rarely seen or heard. The film also becomes a bit scatter-shot, without much of a conventional plot or scene structure, causing the viewer to become discombobulated but still utterly fascinated. The ideas at hand are deep and varied, and the feeling you get while watching is one of complete originality. You also couldn't fault a viewer who finds the entire film a bit too weird and eerie. But it still shows that the ultra-talented Shane Carruth is a director worth seeking out, as Upstream Color--like an intricate maze--is a rewarding piece of art. (B+)
(Upstream Color (2013) and Primer (2004) are both available on Netflix Instant)