Parabolic Transcendence in Time and Narrative Shane Carruth’s PRIMER (US 2004) and UPSTREAM COLOR (US 2013) as Post-Secular Sci-Fi Parables

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Joel Mayward


Subjectivity, memory, identity, and the invisible connections between individuals are all conspicuous within filmmaker Shane Carruth’s two award-winning indie sci-fi films, Primer (Shane Carruth, USA, 2004) and Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, USA, 2013). In this, I contend that both Primer and Upstream Color are post-secular cinematic parables per philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s description of parable: the conjunction of a narrative form and a metaphorical process, addressing the religious via non-religious discourse. Interpreting these two films through a Ricoeurian parabolic hermeneutic addresses their mutual transcendence in and through time and narrative via their striking visual and auditory aesthetics, the use of montage in their nonlinear narratives, and the depiction of invisible relational connections between the films’ protagonists. I conclude that Carruth’s post-secular cinema resides in an in-between space: between the secular and the religious, realism and expressionism, immanence and transcendence.

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Author Biography

Joel Mayward, University of St Andrews

Joel Mayward is a pastor-theologian and film critic. An adjunct professor at Portland Seminary (George Fox University) and the author of three books, Joel is currently a PhD candidate at the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (ITIA) at the University of St Andrews, where he also serves as Associate Editor for ITIA's online journal, Transpositions. His research interests include the intersection of theology and culture, film theory and film-philosophy, and Latino/a liberation theology and ethics. A member of the Online Film Critics Society and INTERFILM, Joel's film reviews and essays are at