Movie Review – ‘Upstream Colour’ (2013)

Posted on by Dave

Bea Harper

In advance, I would like to apologise for not making a lick of sense in this review because this movie is perhaps one of the most impossible films to pin down and explain effectively. I have an emergency crew on standby next to me in case my head explodes and I have composed a will and testament that I have stored underneath my floorboards.

I am one of the folks who was enamoured with Shane Carruth’s freshie effort “Primer” because it believed its audience would be mature and intelligent and it did not just put forward another solid film about time travel, but also philosophy, the variations of mathematics and the particulars of engineering and how they all factored into such a complex idea. Carruth himself stated that despite the concept being fantastical, he wanted to approach the film as realistically as possible because many of the greatest scientific discoveries were made by accident or happenstance. Now, with “Upstream Colour”… all I can say is that humanity is subjective and what makes a human a human is not necessarily a physical shape, it is more of a mentality. In 1920, E.L Thorndike formulated the subject of ‘social intelligence’ and while the genesis of this theory was a product of its time, it continued to be relevant in circles of social theory and sociology. Although it was not officially postulated by one individual, emotional intelligence (or EI for short), at least by common clinical definition, is the ability to identify, assess and regulate the feelings of oneself in solo or interpersonal situations. In the formative Ability Model constructed by Solvey and Mayer in 1990, EI consists of the following basic elements:

Perceiving emotions – the strength to detect and unpack emotions in faces, images, voices, and cultural objects–including the ability to pinpoint the individuals own emotions. The perception of mood and emotional sensation pinpoints a fundamental aspect of EI, thus it makes emotional information processing possible.

Using emotions – the ability to harness emotions to allow and encourage various cognitive activities, such as thought, logic and problem solving. An emotionally intelligent creature can take advantage of it’s changing moods in order to best suit the task at hand.

Understanding emotions – the ability to comprehend emotional language and to appreciate finer connections among emotions.

Managing emotions – the ability to manage emotions in both self and others. An emotionally intelligent individual is able to control all emotions and manipulate them to achieve intended goals.


Although humanity is perhaps the species that has mostly fine-tuned this conditioned behaviour, animal species also retain this ability abeilt in different ways. In “Upstream Colour” the behaviour of pigs is brought to the forefront because like humans, they tend to settle together rather than remain solitary plus they are completely aware of themselves and the world around them. In addition to that, when they are mistreated, they tend to act with aggression and can hold grudges… remind you of somebody?

I don’t truly think this film is based on story but more on concept, the concept being what it means to have an emotional core and what it means to use it. The barest of bones plot for the film according to the Wikipedia centers around two individuals, a man and woman, who are affected by a parasitic organism that journeys through three main stages that originates from an orchid and ultimately hosts in a pig. I am utterly serious. One of the major factors in this movie also involves the notion that every organism on the planet is connected and when one is cut, the rest bleed and every action we make in animosity is the cause of a dire consequence that echoes throughout the rest of the world. We all have our own versions of fineprint, but think about it, what the world is and what we make it and how we relate to each other as a whole can all depend on how we treat our neighbours.


I can’t adequately analyse a movie such as this without resorting to academia (though perhaps that’s probably what Shane Carruth would want), but to do so would require a whole lot of time and effort, and I really did want to discuss this movie ASAP. Carruth demands a certain amount of imagination and cerebral fitness in the films he makes because he is of the mind that humanity were given brains for a reason and to fully comprehend this movie in one sitting is impossible. Even if you watched this TEN times there would still be more questions than satisfying and sure answers. Perhaps that is what Carruth intended… or else he just made this movie as a joke to mess with us so he could have a laugh. Either idea would not surprise me.

I don’t think I can actually rate this movie, but I will say that if you consider yourself an intelligent person who enjoys the challenge and beauty of interpretive film, give this a watch and be prepared to dig deep into your grey matter. What the?… Why is my head—




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