Monday, January 23, 2017

A Shot-By-Shot Analsis of Shane Carruth's Upstream Color - Part 11

by Jack Kentala

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14

"Ring... ring..."

Kris and Jeff walk through their backyard; Kris rests her head on Jeff's shoulder, which is one of the most sincere gestures seen between the two. There are a few intercut shots of their pig counterparts. This begins the sequence in which they feel a very strong pull toward Pig Kris and Pig Jeff. Given that the two pigs just had piglets affects the human Kris and Jeff, bringing the two sets closer together emotionally and physically.

Pig Kris and Pig Jeff tend to their young.

The sequence is intercut with Kris at work, punching mounting rings into a flag. The sound of the machine bleeds over into shots of the piglets and viceversa. An ominous music cue begins.

We also see Jeff at work, placing documents and pens in front of seats around a table; maybe these are the "interdepartmental reports," and while he initially led us to believe he worked on a somewhat-empty floor, here it looks like a proper office.

The Sampler is about to start what we can assume is the routine whenever two worm-infected pigs breed. He picks up a snare to separate Pig Kris and Pig Jeff from their piglets.

There's a jump cut from Jeff in the empty conference room to him walking out of the office, shadowed by two young employees who might be the "interns" he works with; that is, if we believe his story. They look like they're escorting Jeff out of the building, and we soon see he has a box, which is the universal shorthand for either leaving or losing a job. As the interns advance, Jeff looks back at them menacingly. He's definitely feeling the aggression of Pig Jeff, who was snared rather uncomfortably and led away from Pig Kris.

Pig Jeff puts up a useless struggle as The Sampler isolates him from Pig Kris and their piglets.

Jeff sets his box of stuff on a ledge. He paces back and forth, leering at the interns.

This closeup shows Jeff with a wedding band. Either it's from his previous marriage or it symbolizes the symbiosis with Kris; the ring is, after all, a circle, and this film is filled with conspicuous circles. While we only saw the post-surgery scene on the street where Jeff declared "I'm married to you right now" to Kris, there was no scene of any marriage, legally-binding or otherwise.

Jeff pushes his box off the ledge and the contents spill out. He doesn't seem to have any personal effects, and only white paper rains down. Other than a rather-stretched parallel to the shot of The Sampler throwing his compositions into the creek, I'm not exactly sure why Jeff does this. It's not an act of aggression - that comes almost immediately after - nor a gesture of resigned defeat.

The shot itself is evocative; the way that the paper drifts to the ground is hypnotic. Maybe Jeff does it just to create chaos in a world that we pretend has order and rules that are fair. Maybe he does it because there's nothing important in that box. Maybe he's throwing off the last shackles of a nowhere job where he has to hide on an unfinished 29th floor with interns.

Here's another miniature mystery that I've always noticed. Jeff's clothes are business casual, but he wears work boots that are all scuffed up and dirty. It almost looks like he's been walking through the mud of the pig farm, though there's zero evidence for that.

Jeff turns, walks toward the interns, then grabs one, pushes him to the ground, and throws a punch.

The Sampler sets his sights on Pig Kris. He puts the snare around her neck and separates her from her offspring.

Back at the sign shop, Kris looks distraught. She turns as though she notices something.

The Sampler gathers all the piglets in a sack.

Kris finds a lone brass ring on the carpet. She picks it up with a slight expression of worry.

The Sampler continues to gather all the piglets, which is likely the impetus for Kris's upcoming stress and breakdown.

Kris is now very concerned, feeling the anxiety of Pig Kris watching her piglets taken away from her.

Hyperventilating, Kris bursts out of the store into the alley, trying to call someone who doesn't answer.

We also see that she has a silver wedding band that looks identical to Jeff's.

She puts her fist through a set of windows in the alley.

Jeff walks away from the fight with the interns. He's relatively unscathed, with just his tie pulled loose and a line of blood across his nose. One of the interns is sitting on the ground and the other isn't visible.

On the ground floor, random employees pick up the paper liberated from Jeff's box. As he gets in the elevator for the parking garage, he sees the damage from the fight, which is a slight cut on his nose. He then gets in his car and leaves.

The Sampler walks along the same bridge where he threw away his music. This time he has a sack full of still-alive pigs.

He sets down the sack and waits a moment before he throws it into the water. The hesitation suggests that he's second-guessing himself or he's weary of this routine.

Kris, nearly sobbing, wanders around what we soon discover is the 29th floor of C&L Crowne, where Jeff works. Her hand is bandaged from smashing the windows. This begins the strongest symbiotic, semi-psychic connection with the pig counterparts, the piglets, and Jeff.

Jeff, driving, begins to sense Kris's distress entirely by intuition. He even pulls over and begins to repeat "Ring... ring..." prescient of the call he's about to receive from Kris. When the phone rings, he answers and immediately asks, "Where are you?" Granted, we don't see if there was any sort of caller ID, but it seems he simply knew that it was Kris.

"I don't know," Kris responds, even though she somehow managed to get to the building and floor where Jeff works. "I can't find them," she says, likely referencing the piglets. It's very telling that Jeff responds, "Can't find who?" Even though he acted violently with the interns, fighting like when Pig Jeff was snared, he doesn't seem to follow Kris's logic even though it would seem that he, too, would be affected.

"I know they're here," Kris continues, hysterical. "I feel them here. I can't find them and I've been looking everywhere for them."

The last part of those lines is interesting, because it seems that not much time has passed since the pig parents' separation, the piglets thrown into the creek, and Kris's breakdown. So far, the only "everywhere" seems to be the sign store, the alley outside, and the empty 29th floor.

The connection between Kris and Jeff remains strong, despite how Kris might feel more for the piglets than Jeff. Jeff, though, seems to sense that Kris is at his work building, and from memory he begins to guide her to the parking garage.

"Are there three windows?" he asks, which is both extremely vague and extremely specific. Kris responds in the affirmative. "Two doors?" Jeff asks. Kris agrees.

Kris follows Jeff's specific guidance. It's as though he can sees through her eyes, especially when she tries one locked door in a room and Jeff says, "No, the next one," even though there is no rational explanation how he knows that.

Kris is guided down to the parking lot, and Jeff, having circled back after leaving, picks her up. "Come on, let's go!" Jeff calls out with an urgency he hasn't yet exhibited.

"Why were you at my work?" Jeff asks, confirming that the empty floor is indeed his primary workspace.

Kris is no longer hysterical but back in the same sort of zombie mode she exhibited after her surgery. Maybe she has extreme reactions when Pig Kris is in danger, and once that has passed, she reverts to a blank, expressionless state. "I didn't... I didn't know..." Kris begins, answering Jeff, but she mumbles the rest and quickly trails off.

"What are we doing? Where are we going? Home? Kris? Where are we going, home? Kris, home?" Jeff asks the despondent Kris, who's vacantly staring out the window. "Yeah, home," she eventually says.

Interspecies panic

Jeff begins to feel the panic. Arriving at home, he whips into the driveway, going over the curb and slightly onto the grass. They both rush out of the car toward the door. Both try to open it at the same time, like their rationality and logic has been reduced to mere animalistic instinct.

There are several strange details inside their house. The first shot shows a pen and a binder clip on a plate of fruit. There are jugs of water in a floor cabinet in the kitchen. Though there isn't much context for the shot given the close focus, but it seems like a bin of medical supplies - band-aids, surgical tape, and likely something like hydrogen peroxide - is on some random shelf instead of being in a "normal" place like a bathroom.

While Kris and Jeff hurry around, they never say anything. As I posited before, this might be some weird devolution into "pig logic," such as Kris's answer in the car, when she didn't know where to go except "home" once Jeff repeated the word several times.

In case we forgot, here's Chekhov's gun again, and with under thirty minutes left in the film, it has to go off soon.

Kris and Jeff lock themselves in the bathroom and hide in the tub. They are surrounded by food and medical supplies, in addition to an axe and the gun. The axe doesn't make much sense; it could be used as a threat, but I don't think many people would be willing to take a swing at someone even in dire circumstances. Still, Jeff and Kris look rather terrified as Jeff points a flashlight at the door.

Jeff draws the shower curtain. It's child logic, like covering oneself with a blanket to avoid detection from closet monsters. Clearly neither of them is operating with any sense of clarity.

Jeff, though, looks tired and resigned, while Kris still has a wide-eyed terror about her.

[I'm pretty sure every single poster for this film is this shot. This is one of those Perfect Shots that will live on far past the film.]

While Jeff closes his eyes, Kris still looks nervous. They intertwine like animals, each wrapped around the other. Despite the panic, the minimal score makes it seem very romantic.

Kris's confusion, Jeff's rage

While it looked like some pigs in the sack were still alive because it's floating, there isn't any hope for them.

As the sack floats down the creek, a rack focus shows us the white orchids that are eventually turned blue and later collected by the flower shop.

The pigs are, presumably, dead when Kris and Jeff slowly emerge from the bathroom. Both seem confused, like the panic completely overrode any conscious thoughts.

They sit on the couch, and it's unclear if Kris is crying about the pigs or because she had another episode of panic that came out of nowhere and without a clear explanation. Note that when she was distraught, she simply said that she couldn't find "them." It's likely that, even though she saw Pig Kris during the transplant, she has no idea that "them" refers to the piglets. She likely feels the connection to the distraught Pig Kris without explicitly knowing the details of the interspecies symbiosis.

Jeff kicks the table in frustration. He then takes the axe and drags it along the floor until he gets outside.

Jeff starts to (attempt to) chop down all the trees in the backyard. We're not certain where this anger has come from; it could be that he, like Kris, felt a strong panic and is frustrated that he doesn't know why he feels this way.

While Jeff first tries to chop down the trees at their base, he soon goes for any part of them, negating any sort of utility for his actions. He needs to sate his directionless anger. He gets tired very quickly but doesn't stop.

In the cooldown afterward, he looks like the saddest man alive. It could be that the aggression still stemmed from the removal of the piglets from Pig Kris and Pig Jeff, and now he's finally accepted that there's no way to save his surrogate young.

Continue to Part 12.