Shane Carruth

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

7.2 Primer (2004)
7.3 Upstream Color (2013)

Shane Carruth (1972, USA)

The low-budget Primer (2004) is an original sci-fi thriller that deals with the old idea of a time machine. The main problem is that the two protagonists talk too much. It is also a bit implausible (and a bit sad) that the only use for the time machine that comes to their minds is to make money.

A telephone rings. A voice, leaving a message on the answering machine, introduces the film. Four young men (Aaron, Abe, Robert, Phillip) are discussing their business startup in a kitchen while a woman, Aaron's wife Carrie, is cleaning the dishes. Two of them, Aaron and Abe, split from the others and spend days and nights in Aaron's garage working on a scientific experiment. The voice from the telephone comments on their accidental invention (film noir-style): it turns out that a watch left inside their "box" has traveled in time. Abe and Aaron have a regular job in a corporate building where they are involved in an biological experiment to grow some fungus organism. Suddenly, Aaron and Abe are talking about winning the lottery and buying stocks: what they have discovered is a time machine. It allows them to travel to the future for a brief period of time, or, better, it allows a temporary doubles of the subject, to exist in the future. Abe is the most aggressive of the two and has done it first: he shows an incredulous Aaron sitting on a park bench himself (Abe) entering the house earlier in the day. The only catch is that, to avoid breaking the law of causality, they have to make sure that the original never meets his clone. Knowing what is going to happen is obviously a powerful tool to make money. They discuss the moral implications with Abe's wife Carrie, without telling her that it is not just a hypothetical question. They seclude themselves in a hotel room for six hours every day, totally isolated from the rest of the world for fear of interfering with their doubles who are, at the same time, roaming the future.
One night they realize that they are being followed by Aaron's neighbor, Thomas, the father of the girl whom Abe is in love with, Rachel). The only explanation is that Thomas has created the same kind of time machine or found out how to enter theirs. Somehow he must have learned of Abe's and Aaron's invention, and each of the young man suspects the other leaking the news to someone.
The last ten minutes of the film are rather confusing. Abe has second thoughts about time travel and tries to undo the whole story by going back in time before his first experiment with the time machine. He meets Aaron again at the park bench but then faints. Aaron explains that he preempted Abe's action: Aaron does not want Abe to undo the whole story. This Aaron seems to be the clone, not the original: he basically doesn't want to die, and the original Aaron has already tried to erase him. The clones are beginning to have a life of their own. The original Aaron knows that someone will try to shoot the beautiful Rachel and talks Abe into attending the party and stopping the gunman in order to be seen as heroes (although it is not clear why Aaron would care to be seen as a hero in Rachel's eyes).
The clones seem to have achieved real continuous life and want to steal the passports of the original Abe and Aaron and take a plane to a distant country. We see the original Abe and Aaron freeing themselves after being locked in closets at home while the clones discuss at the airport: the clone Abe decides to stay, while the clone Aaron is determined to leave. Abe seems intent on creating a new reality in which the original Abe and Aaron do not travel in time, and, basically, allow Abe and Aaron to live undisturbed.
Aaron leaves and now we know that the telephone voice-over that has been commenting on the plot is Aaron's voice. He called and left a long message for Abe or for someone else with all the details of what happened. Meanwhile this Aaron has joined another team of scientists who speak French and is helping them building something...

Upstream Color (2013) is a romance of sorts between two amnesiac persons, and also a sci-fi thriller about how love saves the world from what could have become a deadly contagious. In an almost satirical twist, this is a zombie movie in which the zombies are both the victims and the saviors.

A young unshaved man is growing worms in a nursery using some blue flowers. A spectacled black boy is riding around a neighborhood and stops to watch two black boys who are asked to close their eyes and move in synch. A man watches two boys fighting. A girl gets an urgent phone call while she is running in a race. A mechanical monster appears on the screen but it is only a computer animation. The woman, Kris, is a graphic artist in her office. The unshaved man cuts two worms and inserts them into two capsules with a white substance. Then he walks into a night club and spots the girl standing in front the restrooms. Next, we see the unshaved man carrying out the unconscious girl in the rain and administering her some king of drug. She tries to walk away but she can't. She takes her home and proceeds to hypnotize her. She obeys his instructions. He goes to sleep and she keeps working at some silly tasks that he gave her. Then he tells her that someone has kidnapped her mother and she needs to pay the ransom. He gets all her money and even makes her drive to the bank and mortgage her house. She makes paper toys, plays checkers by herself and watches a blank screen as if it were a movie. She is eating like a pig sitting on the floor while he leaves the apartment. A very long red worm or snake is crawling inside her veins. She wakes up and see it moving under the skin. She grabs a steak knife and stabs herself in several places, trying to get the worm out. Next, there's a man alone in a field, filming in the dark. She walk barefoot to his van and gets in. He offers her a glass of milk, the she lies down like in an ambulance. She has wounds everywhere. He shaves a little pig, picks a piece of its flesh and operates live on her. The worm is crawling inside her, maybe coming out. He drives away in the night with the little animal still alive and then releases the pig in a farm. Presumably he has just transferred the worm into the pig. She is at a party with people who don't move and don't speak. She finds herself inside a car by the freeway and stares at her wounds. She doesn't seem to remember anything. She drives to her home which is a mess. She mops the floor, takes a shower. At work she learns that she has been fired. At the supermarket she realizes that her credit card doesn't work anymore.
Kris is diagnosed with a mental disease. A year later she meets a stranger on the train, Jeff. He tries to date her but she is weird. One day she tells him of her condition. Jeff too seems to have serious psychological problems. At home Jeff makes the same paper toys that she was making under hypnosis... The farmer and filmmaker records noises of nature and tools, and then mixes them to make music. The scenes keep shifting from Jeff to Kris to the composer. Jeff works in what appears to be a photographic shop. Kris operates a machine tool in a factory. The composer, disappointed with the results of his research, drives back to his farm. By getting close to the pigs he an visualize himself next to the person whose worm was transfused. He acquires the supernatural, telepathic and telekinetic powers of seeing what happens to these people. He follows one who tried to commit suicide after her husband decided to leave her. The farmer/composer can even wander around the house where the husband is alone, meditating on what happened. Kris and Jeff finally kiss and sleep together. While they sleep, they both have some kind of connection with the farm (we see them hugging in bed in the middle of the pig enclosure). Jeff confesses to Kris that he is a failure: he stole money, lost his job, lost his wife. She is obsessed with being pregnant, but a test comes out negative. Instead, they find that she has a rare cancer that will not kill her but has rendered her infertile. At the same time one of the farmer's pig is pregnant (presumably it's the same who got Kris' worm). Jeff finds Kris wandering like a zombie around the city. Kris finally admits that she cannot remember anything of what happened to her. He offers to marry her right there and right then. They are happy together and they share whatever memories that can remember. In fact, they get confused whose memory it is. At the farm the pig has given birth to a bunch of piglets. The farmer/composer throws them in the river. At work Jeff has suddenly a violent fight with his coworkers (the scene is shown without the sounds). Meanwhile, she angrily throws her cell phone away and punches a glass window injuring her hand. He picks her up, they barricade themselves in the bathtub as if they were hunted by a serial killer. The corpses of the piglets contaminate the waters of the creek with a blue liquid. Kris dreams of swimming underwater in a swimming pool decorated with crosses. Then she chases a strange sound. Jeff starts hearing the same sound, that seems to come from underground. Computer animation shows the blue liquid spreading out of the waters into the roots of flowers. Blue flowers grow where the piglets rotted and local farmers hike there to collect them and sell them as exotic plants. Jeff looks for Kris at the swimming pool. She is picking up debris from the bottom of the pool and reciting pages from Thoreau's "Walden" (the book that the thief made them memorize). He throws more stones in the pool and starts reading from "Walden". She keeps diving until eventually she sees flowers. By touching them she is transported to the place where the blue flowers are growing. Jeff and Kris drive there and wander around the very places where the farmer/ composer was making "music". They start making the same odd sounds. Jeff reads the name of the farm on the mailbox and then heads for a music store where he buys CDs of music made by the farmer. As he carries them towards the cash register, they transform into a tray of food. At home both Jeff and Kris listen to the music made by the farmer, and we see the farmer with his pigs (is it them who have visions of him?) The farmer enters a bare room with only one table in the high-rise building where Jeff used to work, and he sits at the table where Jeff is eating his food.. Then Kris also walks in and, without saying a word, all three sitting at the same table in the giant room that has no other furniture. After exchanging a quick look, the farmer gets up and starts walking slowly, as if now he were the one tormented by lost memories. Now they are back at the farm and she shoots him dead. Now they are back in the white room and the farmer is lying down unconscious. Now we are back at the farm and Kris is leaving with a box. The box documents everything that happened to them and to others. There is a long list of names. Jeff and Kris send them a copy of "Walden". It's enough to reactivate all of them. They all meet at the pig farm. Kris caresses the pig that has her worm inside. The victims of the transfusions take care of the farm and of the pigs. The farmers hike to the usual spot but can't find blue flowers anymore: there are only white ones. The thief looks hopeless when he realizes that the store doesn't have any more blue flowers. Kris plays with her pig like a mother with her bay (she cannot have children).

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )