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The Boston Globe

Movies

‘Upstream Color’ deals in shades of gray

Shane Carruth has a theory about “The Graduate.” It involves Elaine actually being pregnant with another man’s baby before she runs off with Benjamin at film’s end. It’s about the sadness hidden inside putative happy endings to movies, about the secret burdens they bear. Carruth’s interest in the hidden meanings of beloved films is highly relevant to any discussion of his long-awaited new film, “Upstream Color.” People are likely to have a lot of theories about “Upstream Color,” and Carruth is here to provide some guidance — albeit of a distinctly limited sort.

But first, an attempt must be made to summarize the plot of this wildly impressionistic, deliberately confounding, elliptical film. Carruth’s second feature, his first in nine years, is another unique harvest of science-fiction experimentalism, a delirious amalgam of Lynch, Malick, Kubrick, and Cronenberg. Kris (Amy Seimetz) is targeted by a thief, who uses a mysterious pill and a series of performance-art-style challenges to debase her and break down her personality. Kris comes to, broke, jobless, and alone, and meets Jeff (Carruth), a slick businessman whose persona is also more slippery and unstable than it appears to be at first. Kris and Jeff begin to fall for each other, but a free-floating menace still lingers, possibly embodied in a shadowy pig farmer, a directorial stand-in who devotes his spare time to recording ambient sounds and desultory scraps of overheard conversation for his own pleasure. “These are victims that have no place to put their anguish or their anger,” says Carruth of Kris and Jeff.

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