Home  Contact Phil


Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


   Upstream Colour


Directed by Shane Carruth (2013)

Even before her entire life is destroyed by a worm Kris seems oddly bereft of friends and relatives, married to her work, and not very happily, either.

It gets worse, though, when she’s jumped on by a character the credits simply call Thief, a malevolent Derren Brown, who stuns her and makes her swallow a certain magical worm found wriggling among the roots of blue orchids.

The worm turns her suggestible. Obeying Thief’s every whim Kris (Amy Seimetz) is robbed of everything she has, especially her identity. Thief (Thiago Martins) also makes her memorise and transcribe Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, cut the text into strips and stick them together to make paper chains before he very responsibly dumps it in the recycling.

As well as being peversely sadistic this is archly allegorial. But on with the plot.

Kris comes round to find worms writhing under her skin and after unsuccessfully trying to free them with a kitchen knife she visits a bloke in a caravan who carries out a transfusion in which the parasites end up in one of his pigs.

Skip on a year and Kris is on medication and has gained an admirer, Jeff (the director, Shane Carruth). She resists at first, but it seems the pair have something in common. Indeed, their broken identities have become positively entangled. They have some good sex and go on a quest to find the secret of what’s happened to them.

Meanwhile, caravan man, who the credits call The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) on account of how his other hobby is recording sounds to make into music to play to his pigs, is invisibly floating about eavesdropping on people’s lives like a confused angel.

There is nod here to Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, as there is to Lindsay Anderson’s Britannia Hospital in the human-to-pig transfusion scene. Why, I don’t know.  But The Sampler seems to be behind all the inconvenience and unpleasantness, sacrificing live porkers to the stream allowing their rotting bodies to feed the orchids.

Kris is caught in this malignant ecological cycle – from orchid to worm to human to pig and back to orchid again.

It may not be all bad, though. The back-to-nature mysticism of Walden suggests there is a redemptive movement at work, away from a cold materialist lifestyle to the warm and muddy piglet-hugging moment with which Upstream Colour closes.

September 9, 2013

Back to Reviews



Writing... Journalism... Research... Awards Judging... Pub Business Advice... Pub Crawls
Contact Phil