Upstream Color is now available to everyone, so I thought it’s about time to break it down to the best of my abilities to help fuel the conversation.
My analysis comes from having seen this film twice now on the big screen (my original review), but it is now available on VOD, Blu-ray and many other services.
I would still highly recommend seeking the film out in theaters if at all possible, the sound design is incredible, but if you haven’t this sentence will serve as an obvious **SPOILER** warning for the rest of the article.
Does Kris have a lost child prior to the events of the film?
I didn’t notice this the first time around, but I am almost positive that there is a picture of Kris playing with a small child on her night stand next to her bed. In the scene where the worm is starting to make its presence known, spreading her out across the bed, I caught a glimpse of this picture. This would be an excellent little detail to make her life that much more tragic, as well as further explaining her violent reaction to losing her pig babies. It also makes the film’s final shot that much more affecting as she finally has the children she has longed for her entire life.
How do Kris and Jeff deceive the Sampler so Kris can get her revenge?
The amazing final fifteen or so minutes of this film are centered around Kris finally getting her revenge on the Sampler for murdering her piglets. Some could argue that she is also getting revenge, unjustly, for stealing her life away, but I don’t know if she is necessarily is putting that blame on the Sampler. Regardless, how did Jeff and Kris project not just that they were together, but in the office building as well to the Sampler. The music that the Sampler creates seems far more crucial the second time through watching the film and Kris is able to take it in and “master” in some capacity.
Jeff and Kris’ linked minds also has to be a key to this ability, but this is one of the films most supernatural elements that doesn’t really have an explanation apparent in the film. Still, my assumption is that through the music our couple is able to reverse engineer the Sampler’s abilities and project back on to him; using the simple lunch setting as a distraction for Kris to sneak into the farm and eliminate the Sampler.
I also found it interesting that Kris didn’t seem to understand the pig connection upon her murderous visit to the farm; only realizing this after they open all of the files at home to inform all of the other “victims.”
What is the history between the Sampler, the Thief and the Orchid Hunters?
In interviews Carruth has played both sides of the coin on this one, saying that none of these guys are connected, but that mentorships almost did play a significant role in this story at one point. Pieces of that mentorship still exist in the film, the Orchid Daughter from her mother and the Thief has some young apprentices, so I have to assume that this process has been something that has been passed along for some time. I imagine that at one point that all of these processes had been part of a collective group under one roof and maybe over time they broke apart for whatever reason.
One clue that plays into this theory is that both the Sampler and the Thief use blue lines on their glasses for their subjects to drink and I am sure we could maybe find some other connections if we look hard enough on the Blu-ray. The three parties seem pretty clearly unconnected at this point of the story, but the mystery around how this process all started is one of the richest subjects to thinking about after the film.
What spurs the shared brain between Kris and Jeff?
The two aren’t connected by the same worm, which is how the Thief connects with his victims, yet they create this symmetry of the mind in which they can’t remember whose memories are whose and can communicate with telepathy across long distances. Is it the proximity of the pigs on the farm allowing them to always stay connected or is this something that worm people in general can form if they begin to bond? I go with the pigs being the link and I feel like the Kris and Jeff could’ve become lovers without all of this weird stuff happening if they had not been linked by their pig halves. Though, one could just as easily argue they never meet if it isn’t for the pigs; they kiss instantaneously in the pen. All that said, I would have loved to see them use these abilities a bit more to see the extent of their telepathy/projection skills.
Why did the Sampler kill the piglets?
Besides the Pig Kris and Pig Jeff family messing up the Sampler’s little pig world, he almost seemed afraid of the potential of two worm surrogate pigs having children. Was he upset that he couldn’t look inside their minds and it was a waste to use resources on them? Or was he simply following some code passed down to him to keep the cycle alive? Does he have to sacrifice offspring from his farm so he can blue the orchids and get more potential patients to him? I am not too sure about this one, but I feel like there has to be more to it than just a simple annoyance. The sampler mentioned he sold offspring to a local farm at one point in the film, why were these piglets so different to him?
What is the significance of Walden?
Does Kris regain her lost memories as she reads Walden or is it simply giving her the power to act on her own instead of being overwhelmed by the experiences that led her here? She has an epiphany in the pool where she grasps the orange orchid and it is only after this is she able to fight back against the Sampler. Walden had nothing to do with the Sampler though, so does having a worm go through you allow you these superpowers that Jeff and Kris use to get their revenge? The book is meditative to Kris and she feels like it can help anyone that has experienced what she has, she sent all of the pig people a copy, but maybe Carruth is giving the book a mythological power as a guide to this higher level of being.
What happened with the dysfunctional couple and the Sampler?
There is still one sequence in the film that is still quite puzzling after a second viewing and that is the scene that involves a struggling couple who we get to see replay a certain sequence over and over again. The man in the relationship seems to be the person the Sampler is observing and he takes a keen interest in this guy after we observe his wife/girlfriend being taken away to the hospital. The memory we see replayed seems to be the last thing these two said to each other before the accident and the Sampler seems to want to fix that. Setting up a chair and playing music to the guy’s pig surrogate (through his psychic connection mind you), the Sampler seems to be affecting the guy’s memory as he overlooks his wife in the hospital. It almost seems like the Sampler is tuning this guy’s memory to the perfect moment so he can feel less guilty about that conversation possibly being the last one he and his significant other ever have. A moment of empathy from the mysterious Sampler that certainly lends you to question how much he deserved to be killed by Kris at the end.
Could Kris and Jeff hear the Sampler working on the sounds/music that led them to the farm?
When the two come across the Sampler’s mailbox for the first time, they are drawn by all of the sounds that the Sampler had recorded there earlier in the film. The editing in the film was very deliberate to overlay the Sampler sampling these sounds with Kris and Jeff working, like they were almost hearing them, but he never plays this music at the farm or for their pigs. He didn’t even record the music, throwing the notes he put down off the same bridge he tosses Kris and Jeff’s pig babies, but all of this symmetry certainly feels like something on a second viewing. So how do they know these notes so well; maybe on the third time.
What came first; the pig, the worm or the orchid?
This is obviously an impossible riddle to try and solve, but I think it has to be the orchid; right? The control substance is inherent in the plant, something natural, while the other two possibilities have the power forced upon them by the plant and the sampler. Still, the orchids can’t go blue without the pigs, who don’t even have worms or traces of the original orchid substance in them unless it was passed down to them by their parents, so that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either. Maybe the death of the piglets that have gone on to the neighboring farm have been supplying the orchids with the magic they need to go blue in some capacity, leaving the Sampler oblivious, but there isn’t enough data in the film to support this. Plus, this also begs the question that maybe it is the worms that are special. They live under these orchids and then end up in their parasite/host pig relationship and maybe only through their mating can the special piglets be made that possess the power of blue.
Is anyone else’s brain hurting?