Monday, January 30, 2017

A Shot-By-Shot Analysis of Shane Carruth's Upstream Color - Part 12

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

"Do you hear that?"

The sack has stopped at the gnarled roots of a large tree, where we previously saw the white orchids.

Kris takes a bath, and the recurring element of water (at least in her storyline) hints at the next major plot development.

She seems rather blank after the heightened emotions of the last few sequences.

Kris submerges herself, which transports her to what we later discover is a local swimming pool. She isn't fazed at all with the transition, though she calmly appears to be looking for something. The camerawork informs us of the surreality of the scene by filming her with the lens tilted ninety degrees to the left when she first enters the pool. Kris also doesn't exhale out of her nose, and she doesn't breathe for roughly thirty seconds.

The piglets are definitely dead. Some seem to have escaped from the sack, though this particular pig is already covered in grime from the stream.

After a few closeups of the dead piglets, we go inside of one and see a blue liquid overwhelming part of a piglet's innards or the surrounding water (even though later shots imply that it's all inside the corpses). It's important to note that we see hints of the same shade of yellow ("Kris's yellow"), though it's unclear if the yellow is inside a piglet or part of the tree's structure. More telling is that the blue drowns out the yellow; if this symbolizes the first step of the cycle - creation of the "blue" drug that hypnotizes humans - then Kris is the endgame, in which she eventually leads the takeover of the pig farm and, thus, the cycle.

Back at the house, Jeff reads aloud with Kris next to him in bed. Kris senses something and asks, "Do you hear that?" The scene is already strange because the shards of Jeff reading was, "'husband,' replied his wife." That suggests he's reading fiction. I'm not sure how many adults read fiction aloud in bed.

"Hear what?" Jeff responds, which is not the first time that Kris has perceived something that he doesn't pick up. "There's a sound coming from underneath the house," Kris says. "I don't hear anything," Jeff dismisses, about to go back to the book. "It's really high-pitched," Kris continues, unwilling to ignore the possible sound.

"You're scaring me a little bit," Jeff says. Given the brevity of the exchange, Jeff is quick to say those words, though he doesn't say it with any degree of alarm. Then again, Kris has done many things that would "scare" Jeff, such as wandering around at his work and leading the urgent rush to lock themselves in their house's bathroom. Still, for as much as they share emotions and thoughts, Jeff, yet again, seems unaffected; or maybe he's affected but at a far lesser degree. It could be as simple as the proximity to when both were infected, since the timeline of the film and the scar on Jeff's ankle suggest he was taken by The Thief earlier than Kris.

Kris then listens to the phantom sound and tries to whistle it.

A smash cut shows Kris and Jeff outside the next day. Kris tries to whistle the pitch, like that could somehow help Jeff. Jeff has excavated a huge hole in their yard, and it's very clear that he's doing it solely for Kris and not himself. "Kris, it's an old house. There are nine things in this house that sound like that," he says, partly underground.

Kris is unraveling again. She urges Jeff to keep digging, rambling about how she hasn't slept and that she's frustrated that Jeff doesn't hear what she hears. It's possible that, since the piglets were from Pig Kris, her connection has now passed onto those piglets as well while Jeff and Pig Jeff are outside the loop for the moment. But the piglets are dead and any mental connection should have closed. The only reasonable explanation has something to do with the release of the "blue" clouds shown inside the pigs, ready to escape from their host bodies. This could suggest that Kris actually wasn't connected to either Pig Kris or the piglets but rather the "blue" itself in whatever form it manifests. This is problematic, though, at this part of the cycle, in which the piglets are dead and the orchids haven't been harvested. We don't really see the transition from the tree absorbing the blue and changing the orchids to that color, and we don't know if that stage triggers any behaviors in The Sampled.

Maybe the piglets are the natural endpoint of the cycle. It could explain why The Sampler killed them instead of selling or raising them, but that would mean he's completely ignorant about the rest of it, such as the white orchids becoming blue, the blue orchids being gathered by the plant shop workers, and then bought by The Thief so he can make his worm-containing pills and engaged in his low-level crime. This is also a dead end for the cycle, since, if The Sampler thought killing piglets ended it, it would just make him confused as to why he still attracts The Sampled and why he seems to know the exact night to go into a field and play the bass-rumbling tape. This raises the question yet again as to the relationship of if/how The Thief and The Sampler interact. The cycle passes through too many people - most of whom seem unaware that they are perpetuating it - to make a clean connection that also includes insider knowledge from the plant shop, which is otherwise the wildcard for the entire circle.

Jeff humors Kris by mentioning that he may have found a strange sound, but he describes it as low-pitched and not high-pitched. "It's both. It's both those sounds. It's both low and high at the same time," Kris says. Jeff, again, is clueless and exasperated. Nothing he can say or do will satisfy Kris's obsession.

We don't know if Kris actually hears something. If she has a connection to the "blue," the low-pitched sound might be the underwater sounds around the drowned piglets. It doesn't explain the high-pitched sound, if there is one at all.

The piglets are about to release their "blue" cloud into the waters around the tree.

These "gooey blueberries" multiply inside the piglets, whereas in the beginning of the film, when the kids were making the potion created by pouring liquid over a mealworm, the "blue" circles fused together instead of dividing.

The cloud of "blue" is released from the piglets. Prior to this, we've only seen it contained within the worms, The Sampled, the pigs, and the piglets. This is the first time we observe it in the wild.

The "blue" travels upward into the roots of the tree. It passes an underwater bug that is already blue. Given that the plant shop workers seem to know where to find the blue orchids and that, presumably, The Sampler throws the piglets from the same spot off the bridge, this particular bug has probably been exposed quite a few times.

We take a break from Kris and Jeff to see how the seemingly-harmless cultivation of orchids fuels the ongoing cycle.

The cycle repeats

The plant shop workers arrives on the scene with large backpacks.

The start of the shot clearly shows the workers, who, after the rack focus, are just a tan and dark-blue form in the background. But here we finally see a blue orchid, which seems to be the beginning of the cycle.

However, it's important to note that, at the beginning of the film, The Thief didn't buy blue orchids but rather a plant that, when scratched with a knife, revealed blue powder.

This shot shows that the blue orchids seem to be confined to one side of the tree. Maybe it's variable depending on where the sack of dead piglets comes to its resting place against the massive, exposed tree roots.

While there may not be a large number of orchids, the workers take great care in removing the plants intact so they survive the transit back to the shop. Again, with an uncertain timeline, it's unknown how often The Thief finds a new victim. He mentioned that he needed "a few weeks" to the kids earlier, which might be the schedule for the plant shop workers collecting the blue orchids.

Back at the shop, the workers transfer the orchids to pots. There are several shots that show worms clinging to the petals, and it's uncertain whether they hitched a ride with the flowers or were introduced by the workers.

I initially neglected this because I thought it was obvious, but this confirms that "E&P Exotics" were the same stickers on the plants bought by The Thief at the head of the film. And, much like The Sampler, there's no outward indication that the E&P people know The Thief or, specifically, why The Thief buys blue plants.

A stray worm crawls across a table in the prep room. This actually brings up an interesting point regarding the worms and how The Thief uses them. How do the worms become a vector for the "blue"? What part of the plant imbues the worms with this strange power? The earlier sequence suggests that the roots of the plant cause this, which makes sense for a worm to contract the "blue" if it interacts with the plant.

Reaching a bit: There's a specific song title from the original score, which are all rather long excerpts of Walden, called "Their Roots Reaching Quite Under The House." If the "blue" affects the roots of things, that has a tenuous connection to Kris hearing a sound under the house; Jeff digs out the pipes and exposes the house's "roots."

"What did you say?"

Back with our protagonists: Jeff comes home - from where? - and can't find Kris.

Like everything else, there is no rationale for how Jeff finds Kris; specifically, he's never been with her at the pool. He manages to get there, and when he does, he hears Kris reciting a line from Walden from an unconscious memory. She's in the middle of her routine and is oblivious to Jeff.

"Kris, what are you doing here?" Jeff asks as Kris sets down a rock on the pool deck. "I love to be alone," she says, which is a line from Walden.

"You love what?" Jeff asks, and his tone isn't that he didn't catch the words but rather he's inquiring as to why she said them. Before Kris can answer - even though she's in an altered state - she submerges to get another rock from the deep end. Jeff briefly picks up the rocks, finds nothing odd, and sets them back down.

Kris retrieves another rock and says, "The sun is but a morning star." "What did you say?" Jeff responds, and, again, his tone isn't quite about the specific words but why Kris said them. Jeff doesn't show a connection to Walden nearly as strong as Kris and the rest of The Sampled, but it seems that he has some dim awareness of the source of what she's saying.

For the next rock, Kris rattles off a much more involved quote: "The wildest sound ever heard makes the woods ring far and wide," she says, her voice interrupted briefly as she breathes. She's in no danger, but she seems to be exerting herself in the process.

Jeff says nothing about the line, but he seems to have a faint recognition. He temporarily leaves the pool while Kris continues her routine.

Jeff returns with a legal pad, writing down the lines Kris says. The first is, "Faint tinkling sounds borne to my ear," which Jeff transcribes.

Her next is, "Their roots reaching quite under the house," which I mentioned above.

Kris continues to retrieve rocks and, upon placing them on the pool deck, reciting a Walden line. The film starts overlapping the lines with shots of Kris picking up rocks and Jeff writing in a mixture of cursive and printing.

Jeff eventually nods off and Kris exits the pool. Once she does so, she seems a bit more lucid than when she was diving for the rocks. She has enough awareness to take Jeff's legal pad and suspect something about the words she said.

Kris is fully conscious when she goes through a library. She seems to know what she's looking for.

How Kris arrives at Walden isn't explicitly revealed, since the pool sequence showed her in a semi-aware state and Jeff's notes didn't cite a specific book. When she went through her house after returning from her time with The Sampled, there was no Walden present, but she, then, seemed aware that something had been done to her. This might be a slight riff on the idea of being drawn toward something, like the brief dialog about directions when she and Jeff went on a drive just before the "They could be starlings" sequence.

The film is coming into the final ten minutes, and just now Kris has come into contact with one of the main tools of her imprisonment with The Thief. We don't know how much of the book she's read, but she looks completely blank; she's either back in a suggestive state or she's had the revelation about the routine with the rocks in the pool or transcribing pages as commanded by The Thief. That makes sense given that her introduction to Walden was during a state in which she was forced to handwrite possibly every single page of the text and, thus, that will always be stored somewhere in her subconscious. Maybe now she can finally reckon the mixed state of her mind while under the control of The Thief. Maybe she realizes that Walden was a key part of being controlled and not some random free-association exercise she does when diving for rocks.

They return to the pool. Jeff drops rocks from a sack and keeps Walden open in his other hand. Without prompt, Kris dives underwater as Jeff begins to read from the start of the book. Here's the strongest example of the connection between Kris and Jeff, since Jeff reads while Kris is underwater and, when she surfaces, she immediately knows the next line. Jeff isn't speaking nearly loud enough for his voice to be heard underwater; Kris simply knows what's being read.

When Jeff finishes the opening few sentences of Walden, Kris comes to the edge of the pool, puts a rock on the deck, and says the next sentence. Note that she's looking at Jeff, and her tone of voice is much more present than the hazy delivery the first time, when Jeff wrote down the lines.

There are a few time jumps to get over some of the more boring parts of the beginning of Walden, and the next time we see Kris at the edge of the pool, she and Jeff actually trade lines instead of Kris just saying the sentence right after Jeff's.

Jeff actually seems to struggle a bit when reading. His delivery is a bit sporadic, possibly because he, too, had to write Walden by hand - and that seems a constant given how the two eventually send the rest of The Sampled a copy of Walden that seems to unites them - and he might finally be coming to grips with it. By contrast, Kris's delivery gets increasingly rapid and confident with her recitations.

Underwater, Kris has a series of visions. First she sees a blue orchid that obviously can't be in the pool; the background of the shot looks like a house interior with computer graphics of rain in the foreground. She also sees an orchid that is mostly yellow with blue edges, as well as a white orchid.

The shot of the yellow-blue orchid makes me think that yellow is the product of green and blue, but there isn't a strong use of green in the film. A simpler take is that The Sampled - Kris and Jeff included - are moving away from the "blue" and, therefore, the color becomes less prominent. The yellow is for Kris, though, especially when she arrives at the pig farm, standing in front of everyone with her prominent yellow scarf.

Here's another striking example of yellow. I'm not sure what type of flower it is, but it's certainly one of the few all-yellow objects seen so far.

Kris is drawn toward it, and she eventually grabs it. There's an incredibly-brief flash of the power line next to The Sampler's mailbox.

Kris releases her grip and grabs the plant a few times. In one instance, she "sees" the dead leaves on a tree, which was something that The Sampler recorded. She also sees part of the creek that trickles through the culvert where more sounds were collected, as well as rocks on the corrugated metal. Her last flash is the edge of the culvert where The Sampler recorded himself running a file across it.

Kris continually grabs hold of the flower until the visions cease.

Continue to Part 13.