Shane Carruth – A Topiary

Spoiler Warning: Primer and Upstream Color


A Topiary is the name of Shane Carruth’s project that made it to script but never to screen. Coming off of Primer, a science-driven science-fiction movie on barely any budget, A Topiary bit off more than it could chew as far as what Carruth was able to gather financially. The project has officially been put to the side; after all, he ended up doing Upstream Color (my favorite movie) and is now working on The Modern Ocean (last I heard).

Due to Upstream Color being my favorite movie, it was only a matter of time before I picked up A Topiary to give it a proper read through. My initial reaction: I can say with confidence that I will absolutely be reading this script a second time. One reason being to relive it because it was phenomenal, the other reason being to get a better grasp on everything that went on.

The scope of A Topiary is monumental and Carruth respects this fact by throwing it in at the very beginning. The script starts off by putting us in a car filled with a family. We spend a few pages with them, and then he kills them off (as far as the script is concerned). This isn’t some flashy way of grabbing a reader’s attention nor is it a way of him trying to break rules by killing off all of the characters as quickly as possible. For me, this runs very similarly to the story of Upstream Color. In Upstream Color, the main character isn’t Kris; it’s the life cycle of the worms. We experience that through Kris, but this includes the Thief and the Sampler as well. In A Topiary, who is the main character? The glint. Where does the glint start? The intersection (at least as told through Acre despite their being many places the glint starts, the same way there were many pigs in Upstream Color but we experienced the story through Kris). Why is that intersection important? It had the highest amount of accidents. What makes Carruth’s stories so interesting to me is that starting it with that car crash makes perfect sense in the context of the story (the story of the glint), but due to our conventional story-telling rules it almost feels like a gimmick at first. We expect the story to be about one of those characters in the car, not about a glint or an intersection.

Let’s reign this back to the point I was getting at: the scope of A Topiary. In Primer, the scope was between two people and the trust issues that ensue when something so lifechanging is added to the mix. In Upstream Color, the scope was the life cycle of a worm, and how that cycle in nature connected different people. A Topiary is also very much on board  with nature and the being-connected train, but the scope is the entire universe, and a life form that in this case is not a worm but rather a life form that is almost a property of nature itself. Bear with me.

Acre’s story revolves around how all areas of science, with application to nature, lead to the same place. Acre got there by following the glints doing his traffic related job. It was so embedded in nature and his surroundings that it led him to the same place as everyone else just by counting birds flying across a street, or bicycles being left outside on the hour. Once he was joined with everyone else, it was seen that everyone there had gotten there themselves by being some sort of expert in their individual field, and followed the signs to the same place. This was the idea of connecting all of these fields together through nature. Being a non-practicing trained audio professional (hooray), the concepts of finding audio clips that were identical to other sources in nature was mind-blowing to me. It felt original, it felt well-executed, it felt exciting to read about, and I will likely be waiting years to hopefully experience it on the screen.

Having all of these experts in different fields of science was something that A Topiary had in common with Primer. Primer showed that the audience doesn’t need to be an expert in a field to enjoy seeing experts thrive in their own environment. Hollywood likes to dumb things down for the average (or below average) consumer, and then spoon feed whatever is going on with deliberate exposition. Seeing people talk like they belong in that field adds a feeling of genuine realism, but one that can only accomplished if the story can still be felt despite the audience not being an expert in the field. Upstream Color goes a different route, and instead of having people talk as if they belong there, there is almost no dialogue at all. But both of those styles are accomplished by doing the same thing, making the audience feel the story before anything else. The very first time I finished Upstream Color I was overflowing with emotions, but I had no idea what I had just watched.

All of the properties of nature led beings, that through evolution achieved consciousness (the obvious example being humans, but this extends to any beings throughout the nature of the universe), to the same place. This place can be called gbpa, or glint—>bifurcation—>poem—>apologue. This place brought about the construction of robots(?) that, if we assume a food chain exists, are ranked above humans.

The main chunk of the story is the boys, despite how amazing the Acre section is. All of the boys have six letter names, almost homogenizing them together. They represent the entirety of the human species. This section of the story is about human nature and its place within nature itself, and how it ultimately leads to the same place as well. Using the boys as the main characters here lets us examine human nature from a tabula rasa stance, but it also allows the audience to understand this complex subject at the same pace, with all of the hands-on learning that comes with being a child.

I am still left a bit confused over a few points of the story, mainly the eating of the detritus allowing the experience of what seems to be the ubiquity and omniscience of the choruses. Is there a realm where, given the same universe as this story, humans could modify themselves to be more like choruses through detritus eating? I have no idea. I will sit on some of these questions during further readings and any additional online research that I do.

This story involves robots(?) being a part of nature, the development of consciousness, nature being connected from various fields of science overlapping, and I believe it pulls all of these things off to incredible effect. This is what I mean when I say the scope of this piece is enormous.

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