Upstream Color

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Looking at my last post, then this one, I see that I’ve been doing arthaus deepcuts and I need to do Magic Mike XXL next.

This movie, Upstream Color, is one of the weirdest fucking movies I’ve ever seen. But weird because it was so striaghtforward? It’s like if David Lynch all of a sudden wanted to be subtle. There’s not that much dialogue which surprisingly didn’t bother me at all. A lot of the exposition is shown through visuals, which I appreciated. The exposition just happens to be confusing and kind of fucked up.

The main character is a woman who in the first five minutes of the movie has a life, she is some kind of editor on a film project, or photography something like that, she runs, etc. However, very quickly she is rendered unconscious by a stranger who makes her inhale this maggot? (Some type of larva) which makes her completely suggestible to his will. It reminded me of one of the Vice documentaries they did about a drug called Scopalomine/The Devil’s Breath which steals the person of free will (for like 8-12 hours) but you remain conscious, so they could say, “withdraw all your money from your account and bring it to me” and you would do it with no hesitation or protest.

That’s what seems to happen to this woman, the dude keeps telling her things, like that she’s not hungry or tired so she stays awake for a few days, or menial little tasks to do, like copying pages of Walden then making paper chains out of them, etc. He tells her her mom has been kidnapped and the people are asking for money, does she have any- so she signs over the equity on her house to him (but gets it in cash so it’s untraceable) and shows him “the coins” which apparently is the casual collection of gold that she has.

This goes on for what seems like a few days until she notices the maggot(s) crawling under her skin and tries to cut them out with a kitchen knife and passes out on the floor. She is then taken to a pig farm in an ambulance where this guy sucks the maggot out of her and puts it in a baby pig, who he also might have used as a skin graft for her knife wounds. Again, no dialogue in most of these shots so sometimes it can be unclear exactly what is going on.

Then apparently she’s damaged goods and/or out of money so the guy abandons her and we see her regain sentience in her car on the side of the road. She drives home crying, that’s when we realize all that shit happened in HER house (creepy) so she has to clean up her own blood, and all these other remnants of this psychic torture she doesn’t really remember. There’s a husband in here somewhere? It doesn’t seem to be hers, he’s married to this redheaded woman, and it might just have been a parallel storyline (someone else who was maggot hypnotized) to show the emotional turmoil in the aftermaths? Again unclear to me.

So she tries to rebuild her life, she got fired from her job & stuff- and we see her riding the train to work. There is a dude who seems really interested in her and they exchange numbers, then we see them again on the train and he’s like, “I called you. I can’t keep doing this, I’m late for work you’re four trains behind me, if I call you have to answer.” Which, I did not like, because she doesn’t owe him anything, but apparently this is ‘love’ and they start dating and are together for the rest of the film. Because he liked the way she looked on the train? I hate stuff like this. But, I think it’s supposed to be like “they were inexplicably drawn to each other” because later it turns out he was maggot hypnotized too. But that’s later.

So, they are together and this is where most of the dialogue comes from, they keep having these conversations about their memories and they keep getting confused who experienced what-there’s a story about a child almost drowning and a neighbor kid who did it that they both insist was them. This is probably because they were both fucked with and memory is notoriously fallible/easy to manipulate (thank you Elizabeth Loftus!) but they’re cool conversations.

He discloses that he was married, but is now divorced, because he had a drug problem and also lost his broker’s license because he stole money from clients. It’s unclear whether this is just what his brain populated as an explanation to the mind kidnapping or if it actually happened. Who knows.

But she’s like pretty paranoid all the time (understandably) and will just go through these phases where she’s hiding? Or punching through glass out of frustration. During one of these, he proposes to her (So sweet!!!) and she says yes in her panicked stupor, I mean, out of love!

There’s also this other weird thing going on with the dude who owned the pig farm who fixed her, he seems to be invisible to most people, we see him standing super close to strangers and they never notice his presence. There’s also a scene where someone offers to buy his piglets and he declines, then we see him gather them all in a burlap sack and throw the sack into a nearby river.

We follow the sack as it gets caught in the roots of a huge tree on the bank of the river that has white orchids growing through it. Over time (which is made clear by the stages of decomposition the dead pigs go though) we see a chemical being released inside the pig bodies from the maggots that were implanted into them, it is deep blue. Then we see lady hikers coming, and now the orchids are a deep blue color. The women pot the orchids and take them to their floral shop where they sell them.

The first scene of the movie was the guy who kidnapped the main girl, buying a bunch of these orchids, then picking the maggots out of the dirt they were in and putting them into jars, treating them in some way.

There’s a lot of stuff that happens but basically, the guy and the girl who got married, start to put some pieces of emotional trauma together and eventually they end up on the pig farm and she kills the farmer. (It is unclear if she killed him on the farm or in some psychic realm, but either way he’s out of the picture). So, as one does when you kill someone, they raid all his things. She finds a box that has detailed files on all the people who were pignapped, including herself and her husband, and she starts sending all the other people their files and a copy of Walden.

They all then go to the pig farm where they repaint (a sign of progress and positive growth!) and start taking care of the pigs. The end of the movie is those women hikers going to the tree and picking up the orchids which are just white again, then the original kidnapper dude in the store looking for the maggots in the roots of the orchids but they’re not there. Then a shot of the main woman cuddling a baby pig.

I mean, if I had to say what I thought the meaning of this movie was, it would seem that the message is there’s some beauty in the world that comes at a high price (the expense of others) but there are also other channels to create beauty that come from good processes.

But that is one thing in a movie that literally had so many things. It was truly an odd thing to watch and process. Like I said I didn’t really like the relationship between the main couple, it seemed co-dependent and unhealthy and awful. Also I couldn’t tell if the pig farmer was real? And how did he get the files from the kidnapper? And if it was all about getting money why did he make every single one of them read Walden? The themes of which are all about self-sufficiency and self-reliance and personal enlightenment through seclusion and nature? (If I remember 10th grade English correctly).

Also the main image for this movie is them hug sleeping together in the bathtub which maybe is supposed to be romantic but this was during one of the paranoid times when she is literally running from some unnamed evil that she can’t figure out. I don’t know, the whole thing seems like an odd representation of what even? the human condition? Love? Everything is so manicured to this weird scenario it seems almost impossible to take any meaning from it that could be applicable to another situation.

I need to read some thinkpieces about it and maybe then I would feel differently, but for now: three out of five orchids, would not masturbate again.

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