Monday, January 2, 2017

A Shot-By-Shot Analysis of Shane Carruth's Upstream Color - Part 8

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

"It's not my fault when it goes wrong."

The Kris-Jeff date itself isn't shown. There's an immediate cut from the two riding an escalator to Jeff walking Kris to her apartment. Clearly she lost the house in the events of the past year.

The first thing we see is Jeff, already mid-motion, about to kiss Kris. Kris backs off and tries to st ay noncommittal by mentioning she has to open the sign store in the morning. Jeff immediately presses her and says, "Not that early, I bet." Kris seems to be on a similar wavelength, but she restrains herself. Jeff makes fun of Kris when she says, "I'm lucky to have that job." "Sign store job... you're lucky to have it?" Jeff responds.

I find this "hostile courtship" one of the more fascinating facets of Upstream Color. From what we've seen so far, both Kris and Jeff have been, for most of their interactions, somewhat rude and fairly distant to each other. They each reveal themselves in short bursts and then immediately withdraw.

Any other two people in the known universe would never get together this way. When Jeff confronted Kris on the train and said that she has to answer when he calls and that he's going to call again, that's usually a sign to switch trains, change your phone number, and tell your boss to call the police if someone named Jeff comes looking for you at work.

The clues have been meted out very slowly considering this is almost exactly the midpoint of the film. So far, the signs that Jeff has been affected by the "blue" and was forced into a routine by The Thief have been obvious albeit brief. There was the scene at the hotel bar where Jeff talked to a client while picking out all the blue M&Ms in a bowl. There was the scene not longafter in which Jeff tied paper straw wrappers together like the paper rings that The Sampled made while transcribing Walden. In a few scenes we'll yet again see him make paper rings with straw wrappers.

So far, though, we haven't seen much regarding the symbiosis, which would explain their attraction despite their behavior. We haven't seen the "sympathy pains" scene where Jeff seems to feel the same sensations as Kris in surgery. More importantly, we haven't yet made the full connection with the pig versions of our human protagonists. Specifically, the hostile courtship seems so strange until we see the interactions between Pig Kris and Pig Jeff, which might just be the only reason why their human counterparts get together.

Kris dodges another kiss and, nearly flush with her door, says, "It's not my fault when it goes wrong." The sheer anxiety and honesty in that line should be included in every set of weddings vows. For Kris, though, it's all part of her defense mechanism given the year that she has been having.

The hostile courtship reaches its apex when Jeff bluntly responds: "Yes, it is." Looking at just the words on the page, it's the sort of thing that warrants a prompt slap. But, somehow, Carruth's delivery makes it seem weirdly sincere and almost sweet. Jeff makes his third attempt at a kiss and Kris doesn't resist.

The immediate cut takes us to a wide shot inside Kris's dark apartment. The frame is filled with black and negative space. I have to admire the direction for this brief scene, shot as a single master. Like many parts of the film, it's far more honest than usual post-first-date makeouts in movies. Kris and Jeff finally give in to the attraction that initially brought them together on the train. It doesn't matter that Kris's apartment looks fairly dingy - I've lived in multiple apartments with the same crappy range and its crappy plastic hood - and there's only a sickly yellow light turned on in the kitchen. There's no score, only the quiet sounds of the two fumbling over each other.

Kris and Jeff make out with an unguarded intensity; they're so eager in that moment that they lose track of the physical surroundings.

What makes the scene is when Kris bumps against the range and both temporarily stop kissing. They're thrown back to reality, but they still move in close proximity. The interruption - and we've all had similar interruptions - momentarily kills off the momentum and the arousal of working their way toward sex. It's an awkward moment, since neither of them looked like they wanted to surface and take a breath. They look at each other briefly and weigh the moment before resuming with the same intensity. It's one of the best pieces of direction in the film because, like much of Kris and Jeff's tumultuous relationship, it's completely honest.

We skip the sex and cut to the morning after. The scene quickly becomes surreal, and the easiest method to determine the location is the white balance and color cast. Here, the warmer palette represents Kris's apartment.

Twin scars

The big reveal is coming up. Remember how The Sampler took the worm out of Kris near her ankle? Here's the scar leftover. And when Kris moves her foot--

--Jeff also has a mark in a similar position. Where Kris's mark slightly rises from her skin, Jeff's looks different. It almost looks like a plus sign. By this shot alone, it looks like Jeff's has healed more fully, implying that he was affected by the worm earlier than Kris. The exact timeline of who was abducted first doesn't really matter, but if Jeff came before Kris, then that means he was infected with the "blue" at least a year before Kris. This, though, is all based on Kris mentioning that she was diagnosed for a mental illness in the year between having the worm removed and living her current life at her apartment and job. [As much as I try to piece together the timeline, I admit that it's not of any ultimate importance.]

Still, even with the blue M&Ms and the straw-wrapper rings, this is further proof of Jeff's experience with The Thief and The Sampler.

As they awaken, Jeff runs his hand over Kris. It's a mirror to the scene earlier when Kris first awakened once The Thief left her house and she did a sort of full-body stretch on her bed.

Kris flips over and kisses Jeff, and there's the first shot where the color doesn't fully match. It takes on the bluish, pale quality of all the exteriors we've seen so far.

The scene very quickly intercuts between Kris's apartment and what we soon discover is the pig farm. Of course, there's no logic to it, and it serves more as a bridge between Kris and Jeff and their pig counterparts.

"I Love To Be Alone"

Kris and Jeff disappear when The Sampler opens up the pen and feeds the pigs.

Notice that not all of the pigs have ear tags, which are on the pigs paired with humans. This could suggest that the non-tagged pigs will eventually receive worm transplants and then get tagged.

This is the first time we see The Sampler working solely as a pig farmer. He doesn't have his musical equipment and he doesn't have any visions connecting certain pigs to the corresponding Sampled humans.

Back at Kris's apartment, the two - presumably in the morning after their night together - are in the kitchen. Kris makes eggs and Jeff eats cereal straight from the box; that sort of overly-comfortable behavior strikes me as slightly odd given it's their first overnight, but everything about their relationship is strange.

The proper version of "I Love To Be Alone" plays. Earlier renditions have other sound effects layered on top, but this is the bare two-piano version. The song plays in starts and stops, like the two pianos are trying to synchronize. It's the perfect representation of Kris and Jeff.

Kris eyes Jeff and then lunges forward to kiss him. It's the first gesture she's made toward him. As she pulls back, she looks at him with a confidence that is very rarely seen from her. Neither of them say anything; they don't need to.

Now we spend some time in Jeff's world, entering one of the hotels where he lives. Presumably that's Jeff's bag already on the couch. Kris looks slightly off as she walks in.

Going back to Jeff's line about losing his savings and then waking up in a hotel has more meaning in this shot, given that they enter in darkness and then "the lights turn on."

Kris still looks confused, and the audio from the next scene has her asking the obvious: "Why do you live in hotels?"

Note that, while Jeff has taken off his coat and settled in, Kris still has all her outerwear on and her bag tucked under her arm.

"Yeah, but why do you choose--?" Kris begins after Jeff explains that it's a perk for working for a company that owns hotels. Jeff immediately cuts her off, though, when he says that he's hungry. It's likely because, as seen later, the entire story of his employment isn't exactly something he wants to immediately disclose. [And there are many elements that tie into my Theory of Unreliable Jeff.]

They eat in the kitchen and Kris remarks that hotels always remind her of family vacations. Jeff begins to talk about one of his: "There was this place in Vermont that we would go when we were kids, like a colonial--" he starts, but Kris slightly interrupts him, saying, "Vermont?" She then adopts a sort of blank stare as Jeff continues on. She even sets down her glass and briefly freezes, even forgetting to swallow her wine. This is the first major hint about their possible shared memories highlighted in the upcoming "They could be starlings" sequence.

The two are still honeymooning - we don't know what happened between the first night at Kris's and the arrival at the hotel - and some throwaway shots emphasize this. They goof around in the laundry room, swipe hotel-sized shampoo, and wander around the hotel.

We come back to the pig farm briefly. The cue "I Love To Be Alone" continues. There's also the first glimpse of Pig Kris and Pig Jeff alone together by the pen fence.

Continue to Part 9.