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The surreal "Upstream Color" is so many things at once science-fiction saga, romantic drama, living thought experiment that it may require multiple viewings to parse through the messages, visual clues and subtle shadings.
On first viewing, though, it's probably better to let it wash over you in its trippy glory.
The story begins with Kris (Amy Seimetz), who is kidnapped and fed a grubworm with mind-control properties. The worm is wielded by an unseen identity thief (Thiago Martins) who uses it to hypnotize Kris into emptying her bank accounts. Later, the thief removes the worm, but by then Kris' life is ruined having lost her money, her apartment and her job as a film editor. The grub is then implanted in a pig, which is tended by a mysterious farmer (Andrew Sensenig) who also collects audio samples.
As Kris starts over, working in a sign-making company, she meets Jeff (played by Shane Carruth, the film's director), a hotel accountant with a backstory similar to hers. Is their meeting, and later their courtship, predestined? Maybe the farmer knows.
Carruth wrote, directed, produced, co-edited, photographed and wrote music for the film. What he created is a movie with evocative images composed and paced with a lyric grace that inexorably draws the viewer into its weird wavelength.
For all the oddness of "Upstream Color," the plot is lucid and reasonably linear or perhaps cyclical is a better word, since the ending seems to close a circle that includes the pigs, the worms and an exotic orchid. Compared with Carruth's brain-scratching time-travel drama "Primer," which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, "Upstream Color's" storyline is simplicity.
What is more complex is how Carruth layers image and ideas within that storyline. For example, notice the significant and symbolic use of the colors blue and yellow throughout the movie. Those details will invite close scrutiny, and repeated examination, as "Upstream Color" gets into your brain and weaves its peculiar form of magic.
Worms, pigs, orchids and a couple in love in a surreal and haunting drama that ties them together.
Where • Tower Theatre.
When • Opens Friday.
Rating • Not rated, but probably PG-13 for sexual content, violence, disturbing images and language.
Running time • 96 minutes.