Wham Bam Pow Ep. 15 - Violence in Movies and Upstream Color

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Wham Bam Pow

This week, we have a discussion about violence in movies -- how do current events affect our consumption and enjoyment of action flicks? Plus, we put on our thinking caps and dive into Shane Carruth's sci-fi stumper Upstream Color. What IS this movie ABOUT?

Follow us on Twitter! Cameron is @cameronesposito, Rhea is @rheabutcher and Ricky is @rickycarmona. Discuss the show using the hashtag #WhamBamPow!

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Is Upstream Color the future?

So glad you reviewed this movie (Upstream Color). There are so few scifi movies which engage substantially with recent scientific theories! Most are caricatures, in the Frankenstein model, or base their stories on ridiculously-out-of-date ideas (think of any movie with Jeff Goldblum). Carruth majored in mathematics, which seems to have given him an appreciation of the fractal complexity of current science. That sense of complexity rings true to our experience, and it ups the intensity of his films -- Primer, for example, has got to be the most complexly-woven time travel thriller ever made. With Upstream, I'm not sure he succeeded in packaging those complex ideas into a compelling narrative, but as you've all suggested, its fun to watch him try.

So kudos for taking this one on.

Two aspects of Upstream which I'd like to hear you discuss:

1) This narrative hinges on a creepy biological mechanism, whereby the protoagonist's minds are altered by some kind of synthetic(?) blue parasite. Lately, there have been tons of mind-boggling science stories about creepy biology: revelations about the number of bacteria in our bodies (there are more of them than us), epigenomic inheritance challenging core ideas of traditional genetics, parasites which hijack the minds of caterpillars (true!), and of course the psychotropic drug industry (prozac in the water supply!). Essentially, researchers in biology have completely dismantled our conventional view of a ourselves as a single being. Instead we are a bunch of massively-interacting bio-muck. Carruth somehow makes this his plot device.

The movie also reminded me of the icky black goo in Promethius, which terrifyingly evolves into multiple-shaped aliens but also somehow (don't ask me how) played a role in starting life on earth. Now, I think we can all agree that Promethius was a terrible movie. However, the commonalities between that Ridley Scott's gritty black virus-goo and Carruth's airy blue toxin bear some deeper discussion. For one thing, as Cameron E. might point out, they both represent microscopic, traumatic, and pretty disgusting invasions of our bodies. So ... this is the future right?

2) Upstream is a spectacularly slow movie. I haven't been held that uncomfortably in a state of suspended boredom since Tartakovsky's original Solaris. Is this aesthetic just a knee-jerk reaction to the accelerating pace of more conventional sci-fi, or is there something more to it?

Love to hear your thoughts. And podcast it yo!

- bklyn