If you have a film to suggest I talk about, let me know!
If you have a film to suggest I talk about, let me know!
If there is one thing I know about Upstream Color, it’s that questioning the film’s quality is an absolute disservice to what is at play here. Is it good? To my mind, yes, it’s one of the most technically marvelous films I’ve ever seen and it’s utterly fascinating. But designating the film as good or bad (take your pick, I’m not gonna tell you to like it) feels wrong, as Upstream Color is more of an exploration than a film. It is a barrage of questions rather than a singular answer. To me, Upstream Color is an exploration of identity. In its exploration of the loss and restructuring of the identities of its two leads, the film asks questions regarding the separation and connectivity of the self, nature and the selves of others.
The two leads, Kris (Seimetz) and Jeff (Carruth), display how they cope with identity loss in wildly different ways. Kris is angry and has drawn herself inward as she struggles to connect the dots. She’s not sure what has happened and is desperate to discover the truth. Jeff, who stole from his company during his crisis with the worm, is complacent and has allowed his identity to form to the shape others observe. He doesn’t admit to not remembering his theft, but instead assimilates it into part of himself. He is the way he is viewed. Kris seeks to find herself and rebuild who she really is. At one point in the film, Kris and Jeff bicker as they confuse memories with one another. Each has become reliant on the other to build themselves.
It’s worth noting that the first person to apparently appropriate the other’s memory is Jeff, as he believes that the story Kris tells him of her childhood neighbor, Renny, is his own memory. Jeff’s crisis with the parasite has seemingly left a total shell who must reconstruct identity from the world and people around him. Kris, on the other hand, seems more sure of which memory belongs to whom. Given that she too has been a part of the worm cycle, trusting her sense of identity may seem folly, but here she shows a rare moment of assurance that what’s hers is hers and Jeff is making it his own. For Jeff to build his identity, he works to strip Kris of hers, making him analogous to the parasite that is the film’s catalyst and guide.
The cycle of the worm, from orchid to person to pig by way of the Thief, Sampler and Orchid family at once creates an artificial unity and bolsters a physical separateness between humans and nature. When the Sampler removes the worm from the Thief’s victims and implants it into a pig, the actions of the victim’s pig affect the emotion and rationale of the person it is connected to. The victim’s identity then is split between the person and their pig counterpart. In this way, a sort of unity with nature is emulated. But the split of the natural self still separates Kris and Jeff from what is natural and true. As one’s identity is the lens through which one comes to see the world, then the loss of identity would cause a disconnect between persona and natural reality. Kris and Jeff have become a sort of slave to nature as they fall for each other as their corresponding pigs do, and experience great loss and fear when their pigs’ piglets are taken away.
The conversation with the transcendentalists, especially Thoreau, that carries Upstream Color along is not entirely celebratory. Yes, when the victims of the Thief are united with their pigs, there is a moment of quiet serenity. But not every step to this peaceful unity may be worth it. When Kris finally comes upon the Sampler, she believes him to be the same as the Thief and kills him. Whereas the Thief’s actions represent a brutal misuse of nature to strip people of their happiness and identity, the Sampler seems to be nature itself. His machinations are those that bring people together and sometimes pull them apart for reasons not always explained. He has not only brought Kris and Jeff together but has also brought peace to the Thief’s victims as they come upon the pig farm. He is the controller, and from his viewings of the victim’s lives he certainly seems kind. Yet Kris mistakes him for the villain and murders him. Further, even though Kris has reunited with the pig that is her identity, her own, human cycle of life cannot continue as the path that has led her here has stripped her of fertility. Perhaps transcendentalism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. After all, the first time Walden is seen, it is a dog-eared copy in the possession of the Thief.
Upstream Color is a wonderful meditation on identity and nature. Over its calmly paced 96 minutes, the film transcends the transcendent and leaves a mark on the viewer I won’t soon forget. I am better for having seen this film.
Gareth Evans’ excellent short in V/H/S/2 has me thinking about cults in recent horror films.
To me, cults work better if films are built around them, as is the case in “Safe Haven.” When cults are used as the twist or pay-off at the end of the film, the movie might be in danger. Kill List, for example, was a major disappointment as it built up with this fascinating story of hitmen that only led to an eventual run in with a cult. Yes, hints of cultism are scattered throughout the film. And yes, I did want to discover what their odd employers were up to. But a generic cult that remains shrouded in secrets to the end is not a satisfying pay-off to the film’s core story. Further, it serves to focus on one theme somewhat present in the film while excising questions I found much more interesting.
A different film, Ti West’s The House of the Devil, does the cult pay-off in a much better way. The film opens with a title card about the Satanic Panic which immediately engages the viewer to ask if the fear of Satanic cults was unwarranted. From there, the film’s massive build of tension is allowed to break in two ways within the logic of the movie. One, it could explode into a thrill ride of cult terror. Or it could subvert all expectation and do anything else. It does the cult thing.
First paying off with the very thing the film warns of affirms that all the things you’re afraid of are very, very real. And second, unlike Kill List, all the thrills feel earned. Everything has led to this and this is where everything should have led.
Not to say that Kill List’s problem is in its unpredictability. No, I value the unexpected in horror, of course. But the unexpected should still fit the film. I should be able to look at the finale of a film and find a reason as to why we’re here and what has led us to this point. And I just cannot find those thematic threads in Kill List. It’s quite a shame too, as the first two acts pose plenty of interesting dilemma and set up fascinating character arcs that are, like me, ultimately let down.
They say the end of a series is often the best point of entry for a newcomer. You might ask who these people that say that are. It doesn’t matter. The point is I saw The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 with almost no context or background. And it was the greatest cinematic experience of my life.
Now, I can’t say I had no context for the spectacle I witnessed last night. I spend a lot of time on the internet, so I knew the characters’ names and the basic gist of whatever the fuck they did. Hell, I even read a paragraph of the first novel once. Had to put it down after that. I’ve read at least 4 Chuck Palahniuk novels, but couldn’t get through more than a paragraph of Twilight. You get the picture! But, as far as plot or central conflict goes, I knew nothing. Thankfully, the last Twilight picture clued me in incredibly well.
There is no central conflict.
Breaking Dawn Part 2 begins with any previous conflict resolved. There is nothing going on. This girl is a vampire now and she has a CGI enhanced baby who is growing WAY TOO FAST. No, that’s not a disturbing continuity error, just a plot point. They gotta stop her from growing or else she’ll die in like a couple of weeks or something? I dunno. None of the characters go ask like a vampire elder or read a book to find out what’s actually happening. You’d think for a group of old ass immortal dudes who have to hide all the time, they’d have written some vampire science books. But nope, that would be way too easy! Instead Edward and Bella play with their daughter for like the first hour of this movie breaking only to have really shiny, really naked sex or to yell at Jacob for wanting to yiff with the baby. Oh yeah and Bella has the power of super wowzers self-control. So like good vampiric anorexia? And then! Finally! Conflict! Maybe?
So I guess this blond lady is like flying around and then she sees the child. But she doesn’t realize it’s a half-human baby so she runs to tell the evil stereotypical vampires something about that. Oh! She thinks the child was turned into vampire. And that is bad cos apparently that makes really crazy vampire kids. She’s wrong, but the bad guys don’t know that so they prepare to march against the library looking vampires.
But the cast of a CW show doesn’t really wanna fight. So they gather a bunch of people they’ve all met throughout the history of forever to tell the bad guys that everything is super okay. Bella narrates this part like a young Harrison Ford. And so they get these people and they talk to bad guys and everything is okay. Until it isn’t. But then the really hot library vampire comes back (she went away earlier) and now it is time for what I was waiting for, a fight scene!
Heads fly off of everyone. CGI wolves die and look sad when they do so. That one hot vampire is still really hot. And Dakota Fanning gets eaten by a wolf. This is incredible! The last 80 minutes of nothing were totally worth it. Something is finally happening and I don’t know why it’s happening, but it rules.
And then – IT WAS A DREAM SEQUENCE. The cool fight never happened. Instead some magical Native Americans come out of the woods and explain that everything is cool and that the baby who is growing way way too fast will stop that soon and just stop aging and live for a real long time.
Then Edward and Bella kiss some more and Jacob thinks about fucking that kid some more. And that’s the plot.
That’s the plot. Do I need to do any critical analysis of this film? It’s very clear the actors want nothing to do with this aside from the money and that director Bill Condon had to do at least 80 takes on an oddly sexualized charged scene between Bella and… her dad? Yeah lots of cuts from straight face to straight face to guy trying to keep a straight face. Lots of jumpy editing and odd camera movement everywhere. Also, Rob and Kristen look gorgeous naked.
See it. Please.