It’s taken nearly a decade, but “Primer” writer/director Shane Carruth has returned this year with another acclaimed head-scratcher, “Upstream Color.” A film that we raved was “thematically rich, layered and hypnotic,” as the movie heads into release next month and the conversation continues to swell, Carruth is opening up to press. And an extensive, must-read piece in Wired is a good place to start, especially for those wondering just what the heck happened with his sci-fi flick “A Topiary.”
As fans know, that was the movie that first bubbled up to the surface as Carruth’s followup to “Primer,” albeit arriving in the filmmaker’s typically cryptic manner. Back in 2010, a website popped up (still active) that declared: “Over and over you have been promised adventure but have not found it.” And while we had managed to grab hold of the script (read our breakdown here), as anyone realizes, what’s on the page and what eventually is formed in the finished product are two totally different things, and as Carruth shared with Wired, it’s an ambitious movie that had a lot of support, but just could never get off the ground. But first, here’s what it’s (generally) about, excerpted from the magazine:
The opening section follows a city worker who becomes obsessed with a recurring starburst pattern he sees hidden everywhere around him, even in traffic grids. He eventually joins with other believers, forming a kaffeeklatsch-cult that’s soon undone by greed and hubris.
The second half follows a group of 10 preteen boys who discover a strange machine that produces small funnels, which in turn can be used to build increasingly agile robotlike creatures. As their creations grow in power and size, the kids’ friendships begin to splinter and they’re forced to confront another group of creature-builders. The movie ends with a massive last-minute reveal, set deep in the cosmos, suggesting that everything we’ve just seen was directed by forces outside the characters’ control.
As you might guess, Carruth’s obsessive attention to detail sent him down a rabbit hole of research for what was proposed as a $20 million film. He visited VFX houses, built his own CGI equipment and started designing the creatures. “That’s where I lose my time,” he explained. “I get obsessed with these little things. I think there’s some novel way to find a solution, and I go down the pathway too far.”
But most crucially, he gained the support of Steven Soderbergh — a fan of “Primer” — who brought on board David Fincher after reading the script, with the pair backing the movie as executive producers. But as tends to be the case in Hollywood, while lots of people wanted to make the movie, and had meetings about making the movie (Carruth cut a teaser with some early special effects work he had done along with images from Steven Spielberg‘s films), and talked about making the movie, no one actually fronted the money to make the movie. “If this were the ’70s, people would be throwing money at him,” Soderbergh reflects. “It’s just a different time now.”
Whether or not Carruth will attempt to revive it again, remains to be seen, but for now he seems to have to have left it behind. “I decided that if nobody was gonna say no, I was gonna have to say no,” he admits. “It sort of just broke my heart.” Ours too.
But luckily, it didn’t take him long to dust himself off and get moving again, and the result is “Upstream Color” which opens on April 5th.