Monday, February 6, 2017

A Shot-By-Shot Analysis of Shane Carruth's Upstream Color - Part 13

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

The search for the samples

Kris and Jeff are back on the road; it's the same stretch of highway where the bridge across the water is visible. It's also where Kris and Jeff wandered around, unable to come up with any destination for a vacation.

In this sequence, both Kris and Jeff hunt down the specific sounds used by The Sampler. However, remember that, after making the field recordings and compositions, The Sampler threw his sheet music into the creek where he later drowned the piglets. Unless The Sampler used the samples for other music, this introduces a possible mental connection of The Sampler and The Sampled.

The first found sound is when Kris plucks a single leaf off a tree. She brings it down and looks at it, and her expression offers no immediate recognition. She's chasing this, after all, from an extremely-brief vision at the pool.

Kris and Jeff then search the culvert. At first they're at a loss, but then Jeff slides a rock down the side. Even though Kris had the visions, it now seems that Jeff also has some connection to the sounds.

Kris runs her hand along the edge of the culvert as though she can "feel" the sound of the file scraping against it.

They arrive at the final destination by the Quinoa Valley mailbox. This was the first set of visions in the pool and, at the start of the film, the sound that drove The Sampler to throw away his work.

Kris touches the insulated wire. The pitch of the electric hum slightly shifts. She turns to Jeff with a knowing look.

They find a new lead at The Sampler's mailbox for his ambient, nature-sampled music: Quinoa Valley Recording Company.

Kris and Jeff sample The Sampler

Jeff manages to track down a few Quinoa Valley CDs from a record store. They're in those big plastic anti-theft cases, so one of my old theories in which The Sampler placed them in stores himself (to continue part of the cycle) doesn't hold up.

The way that Jeff's hand almost brushes the CDs is an eerie similarity to an earlier shot of The Sampler. It was when he first went into the pen and began to project himself into the lives of The Sampled. Like Jeff, he simply held his hand near the infected pigs and he could tap into their human counterparts.

Jeff gets five CDs. The top one reads something like Repetico, a clear play on "repetition." Right below is a more explicit title: Extractions, which fittingly describes The Sampler's work in removing worms from humans and transplanting them in pigs.

There's a graphic match cut to Jeff bringing his lunch through the empty 29th floor. Here is where the film gets surreal as it shifts among the POVs of Kris, Jeff, and The Sampler without specifying who's seeing what. Two different scenes play out in two different locations while sharing many elements. No logic can explain how certain characters do certain things which would require them to be two places at once.

Jeff's movement and attention is trancelike in this sequence. We know he's on the 29th floor because Kris came there earlier during her crisis. However, the scene where Jeff took his box out of the office and was escorted out by interns strongly suggests that he no longer works there, so why is he eating lunch there? Why is there no one else around? Why is this "common space" completely empty except for one table and a folding chair that had to be brought over?

Even though Jeff is on the 29th floor in daylight, there's a quick shot of The Sampler at sunset. There's a long wire trailing into the barn and it's clear that The Sampler is wearing headphones. What's strange is that he's looking out at a grassy field that has no pigs in sight; it doesn't look like the pig farm whatsoever, though the geometry of that place wasn't fully established, so there isn't much to read in here.

Another graphic match cuts to Kris and Jeff in their house. Jeff puts on headphones as Kris is about to play one of the Quinoa Valley recordings.

Back at the farm, there are closeups of The Sampler's right hand at different times of the day. When he goes to his pigs, he starts sampling again, simply looking at snapshots of the lives of others. Nothing is as long and detailed as the sequence with Jill and Ben.

Jeff already looks uncomfortable and nervous with the headphones on. He nods to Kris. She steadily turns the volume up from its minimum level.

We hear nothing from the headphones, but Jeff rips them off like he simply can't stand whatever it is he hears.

The Sampler keeps sampling. While his first round earlier in the film showed him more curious than menacing, here he looks a bit hopeless, like he's trying to find something within all "his" samples but cannot. From what we've seen in the film, these are really his only interactions with other people, but no one seems to be able to notice him. We've only seen him with the second pig farmer and with Kris, though he didn't say a word to her. He's cut off from society but - like Kris, Jeff, and the rest of The Sampled - he can't find another way to be part of it except through the "blue" cycle.

It's Kris turn to hear whatever it is on the Quinoa Valley recordings.

Jeff ramps up the volume but Kris doesn't take off the headphones.

The Sampler goes over to Pig Kris and Pig Jeff, about to sample both at the same time. This is the last time he'll ever do this; maybe he knows it or maybe he doesn't.

Showdown with The Sampler

The Sampler is transported to the 29th floor. He spots Jeff - who, like the rest of The Sampled, he already knows, if only in a cursory sense - and goes to him. Jeff is oblivious to his presence.

Kris - still temporarily isolated in the listening scene in her and Jeff's house - first looks like she's gripped by fear, but then she looks directly in the lens. There's a steely calm, like she has a plan.

The Sampler sits as Jeff eats. He's then aware of Kris, who suddenly materializes, walking behind Jeff and looking down. Kris initially has no awareness of The Sampler.

Of course, there are several layers of competing realities. There's The Sampler likely in the pen, "seeing" through the pigs. There's Kris and Jeff in their house, listening to the CDs. Then there's the quasi-dreamworld of both Kris and Jeff on the 29th floor along with The Sampler.

Kris sits at the table. Both she and Jeff look hypnotized.

Kris then looks up, making direct eye contact with The Sampler. She doesn't just look at him; she gives him a death stare. The Sampler is take aback, as though he's never been confronted by any of The Sampled in any of his visions.

The Sampler now appears to be very worried. He stands and wanders off. Kris follows him.

Without prompt, The Sampler collapses against a wall. There's no hint of pain or trauma; it's like he's already reacting to what Kris is about to do.

The following actions occur both on the 29th floor and at the pig farm. I think it'd be too simple to posit that the only "real" action is happening at the farm, since there have already been multiple sequences that take place in different locations with the same dialog, such as Jeff's admission to Kris about his job and the looping logic of the "They could be starlings" sequence.

Another graphic match cut brings us back to the pig farm. Kris paces and then turns to face The Sampler, who, instead of sitting on the ground at Jeff's former work, is in the mud. Kris turns and reveals the gun in her hand, which will finally come into play after two big cameos.

Kris, expressionless, shoots The Sampler three times at close range. Judging by the angle of the gun, she either shot him in the head or the chest. If it was the latter, maybe The Sampler's sudden collapse was due to some foresight of a cause-effect loop - maybe he can see into some version of the future of The Sampled? - about being shot in the chest.

R.I.P. The Sampler

I have to admit that I think The Sampler got a raw deal. First of all, The Thief ruined the lives of these people, and by removing the worm, The Sampler, for all we know, is just trying to do the right thing. It could be with that logic that he drowns infected piglets, possibly in hopes of disrupting or ending the cycle. The Sampler isn't completely innocent, though, since he knows there's a symbiotic connection between the pigs and The Sampled, and Kris suffered several breakdowns when Pig Kris's piglets were killed. So while The Thief is guilty of knowingly destroying people, The Sampler, from what we know, doesn't willingly hurt others. For all his faults, it's still brutal that he's killed execution-style.

The Sampled and Walden

Kris calmly approaches The Sampler on the 29th floor. She has no gun in her hand. When she bends down to look at him, it cuts to her at the pig farm. If The Sampler has indeed been killed - murdered, really - then the only logical place for this action to have happened was at the pig farm.

Even if this killing if largely metaphoric, then it works. Case in point, Kris looks down at the ground and then eventually back up at The Sampler; she seems present in the moment, whereas the shooting was cold and mechanical. It's as though The Sampler's death frees The Sampled from another facet of their infection.

Kris returns from the farm with a box of The Sampler's files.

Back at home, Kris and Jeff examine the files. Kris finds a metal box filled with Polaroids of worms and the wounds of The Sampled.

They also find the files for all The Sampled, which include a photograph of the person - their eyes closed, though we never directly saw The Sampler putting them under - and a photo of their corresponding pig, among other things.

Kris's file is clearly shown. On the note, the items I can make out are age, sex, weight, height, blood pressure, body fat, sight, and hair color. It's hard to see, but at the top of the file is a word follow by "/Inception," and on Kris's file it reads, "Pots Field - HWY 129." Given that The Sampler took detailed notes - it's telling that he measured body fat and eyesight - it gives more believablility that he has a degree of medical expertise. While we saw him perform the worm transplant, it's possible that he had enough medical knowledge to sterilize Kris and, presumably, the rest of The Sampled.

At last, the pieces fit together. While, during the worm transplant, Kris briefly seemed aware inside the makeshift tent, it seemed like she suffered some retrograde and anterograde amnesia afterward, leading to her awakening in her car in the highway median. Here, it's all laid bare; there's even a very large picture of Pig Kris on the back of the file. Jeff seems more confused - continuing the suggestion that his own experience predated Kris's insofar that his lingering behaviors and memories have lessened - whereas Kris is in a state of shock.

The shots come quick, but whereas I used to think that I saw a Jeff file, there is none and he's not on any list. Since Jeff exhibits Sampled-like symptoms (the paper straw rings, repeated dialog, uncertain memories), this is probably minor oversight from the property department. But if not, it's absolutely huge, and it'd negate almost everything regarding my Theories of Jeff.

The two look at the list of The Sampled. What's very important to note is that, past "Kris Fischer," there are four more names after hers. That implies four more people controlled by The Thief, four more who had their worms removed, four more human-pig connections, and four Sampled who were possibly sterilized somewhere in the process.

It makes sense that The Thief had more victims after Kris, given the relatively-small amount of money he bilked from her. From what he said to the kids near the start, we know he needs a few weeks between jobs to distance himself and lay low, and judging by his routine of ensnaring a victim, it's likely he does this quite often. In the process, he either directly or indirectly (since we never really know) supplies The Sampler with his Sampled.

Kris and Jeff start going down the list and mailing copies of Walden to The Sampled. They start with a man named Brent, who's right after Kris on the list. It's interesting that Brent is delivered a package at his work. Kris and Jeff both lost their jobs when sampled, yet Brent still has his.

While most of The Sampled clearly didn't expect a copy of Walden to show up in their mail, once they start reading, they don't seem to stop. This echoes Kris's behavior at the bookstore, in which she found Walden, read it, and then seemed to began to mentally process the memory flood of everything that happened since The Thief infected her.

Continue to Part 14.