More Thoughts on “Upstream Color”

Note: This post contains spoilers and is intended for those who have seen Upstream Color. This is not a review of the film, but rather, some of my thoughts on it as well a place for discussion. If you’re looking for my non-spoiler review of  Upstream Color, you can read it here.

I’m going to be completely honUpstream Color_couchest. I’m putting myself under feeling the pressure to make this post amazing. I’m still amazed by the response to my first review and I’m not sure this post will be anywhere near as articulate. Still, I hope you’re able to find some sort of meaning in these words. For inspiration, I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this. I need friends. Please buckle your seatbelt and prepare for a long series of thoughts and a few Biblical references. Shall we begin?

1) Jeff and Embezzlement. Upstream Color_jeffI had conflicting feelings about Jeff at first. On one hand, I was excited because he could be Kris’ best chance at returning to a normal life. However, when he admitted that he lost his job because of embezzlement, I reacted like many women would: “Don’t you dare think of dating that loser, Kris! Run far, far away!” But then Shane Carruth makes it impossible to hate Jeff because he’s all handsome and caring and crap and the embezzlement just seems like a teensy little mistake and I learned that it’s okay to date men with criminal records who sit next to me on the subway as long as they’re attractive and nice to me. Kidding. All jokes aside, I did come to an important conclusion: Jeff didn’t steal the money!

Upstream Color_markingsLet’s take a look at the shot to our left. We can see that both Kris and Jeff have the same tattoo/mark on their ankles. This is the Thief’s way of branding his victims and it’s one of the first indicators that Jeff  went through the same thing Kris went through, thus giving them a common bond. Instead of stealing Jeff’s personal money, the Thief stole from Jeff’s company so he could get more $$$. By drugging Jeff, the Thief had a way to cover his tracks by framing the victim. I felt a whole new wave of sympathy for Jeff after realizing this. Like Kris, Jeff probably woke up one morning with his memory partially wiped and no real clues as to what had happened to him. Even worse, Jeff had no way to prove his innocence because even he wasn’t sure he was innocent.

2) Piglet-Drowning and Demon Possession? I will completely understand if no one agrees with me on this because it is kind of out there. Heck, I’m not sure if I agree with me on this. Try to be open-minded for a moment. Let’s open our Bibles to the book of Luke, Chapter 8, Verse 33 for this one.

“When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.” – Luke 8:33, NIV

Is the parasite a demon? After all, The Sampler removes it from Kris, puts it in the pig, and later, pigs drown, although the surgically altered pig may not have been one of them.

About the piglet-drowning scene… I gathered that the drowned pigs symbolize the children that Kris and Jeff can’t have – which Carruth confirmed during the Q&A. But I think that scene is also an allusion to Luke 8:33. If that’s not the case, this is one freaky coincidence and now I’m scared.

Upstream Color_worm3) Parasite Removal and More Metaphors. Let’s open our Bibles one last time for a quick look at John 10:10.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” – John 10:10, NIV

Satan, the thief referred to in this verse, tries to do all three of these things. The Upstream Color Thief succeeds at 2 out of 3. He steals his victims’ hard-earned cash and more or less destroys their lives. But let’s consider the second half of the verse:

“…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:10, NIV

If you’ll allow me to go out on a limb, I’ll say that’s what The Sampler does – he restores life.  He also makes ugly things beautiful (i.e. He takes strange natural sounds and makes them pleasing to the ear). As I stated earlier, he removes the parasite (demon?) from Kris. I’ve read some reviews that suggest he’s a villain or something along those lines. Let me say now that those reviews are not wrong, nor is my review correct (cinema is subjective). If you’ll allow me to go a little further out on that limb, I’ll suggest that The Sampler is like Jesus. When the infected are led to him, he goes through the difficult process of opening them up and removing the parasite. It’s a process that we humans love to resist because we don’t think we need it. Or, like Kris, we see something ugly swimming inside of us but we can’t remove it on our own. And let’s not forget the scene where Kris shoots The Sampler. Mr. Sampler was nice enough to remove the stinking parasite and she still shoots him. Sounds a lot like what we do to Jesus. He died for us out of sheer love and we metaphorically shoot him all the time.

So why didn’t Kris shoot the evil Thief dude who ruined her life in the first place? Easy. She had been deceived by her enemy, through hypnosis and mind control. Notice how both the Biblical thief and the Upstream Color thief cleverly deceive their targets.

Upstream Color_kids

4) Serious Music-Conducting Future Hipster Kids. Does anyone know their purpose in the film? I am still at a complete loss.

Whew. That was a much bigger mouthful than I anticipated. I don’t want to analyze Upstream Color too much more because honestly, I don’t think that’s entirely how a film of this nature should be received. Watching the film was, and will continue to be, a visceral and emotional experience. Yes, discussion is important and I have enjoyed reading others’ thoughts and sharing my own, but now I’m ready to enjoy the film again for what it is – a work of art. I don’t think any other film has impacted me as much as Upstream Color has, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of wrapping my brain around it and allowing it to make me feel. That’s the problem I have with so many mainstream films – most of them don’t make the audience feel anything. But that, my friends, is a conversation for another day.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on this post. Just leave a comment below, Tweet me, or shoot me an email if you like.