Upstream Color Life Cycle Explanation
Upstream Color Life Cycle Explanation

Upstream Color Life Cycle Explanation

Upstream Color Life Cycle ExplanationUpstream Color Life Cycle Explanation

World Domination Inc. (WDI) appreciates your visiting our Worm, Pig, Orchid (WPO) initiative discussion guide.  It is in this WPO cycle that WDI plans to fulfill all of its larger goals and agenda and so it is imperative that you understand the WPO inside and out.  Ok, so just a wee joke there, but a manual from the WDI would be a fantastic pamphlet primer to have.

For those of you that are unfamiliar, Shane Carruth has created an amazing new movie entitled Upstream Color.  If you haven’t quite yet had the chance to watch it yet, feel free to read a spoiler free version here.  Then, once you’ve had the privilege of watching this great movie come back to read this spoiler riddled discussion. Don’t go ruining your experience by reading this early!

To that end, the point of this post is mainly to walk you through the Worm, Pig, Orchid cycle and detail out the intricacies.  I will also walk you through the events of the movie for clarity sake, and then finally, I will begin to detail out a few key insights about the movie that might help clarify where the movie is coming from and where it is potentially going.

The first step in understanding the macro processes of the WPO cycle is to break each of the processes down and see how each piece works.  Then once we have accomplished this, we will be able to discuss how they all work together towards a larger purpose.

Upstream Color InfoGraphic


Upstream Color Life Cycle Explanation

thief-wormThe Thief and the Worm – while the WPO life cycle is endless, we have to choose a place to start somewhere in order to begin our investigation.  Throughout the movie we see the worm as the chief starting point.  The Thief purchases plants from E+P Exotics (also discussed later) and separates the worms from the soil of the blue orchids.  The live worms are separated and set apart.  To note, the key point here is to find a supplier of the critical worms in order to initiate the starting point of this process.

The Worm and the Thief are a symbiotic piece of this microcosm.  Without the Thief the process will not continue.  Without the Worm, there is no thief.  As we have seen in Shane Carruth’s awesome new movie we have learned that there are many ways in which the Thief can potentially use the intrinsic power of the Worm.  Mind control being the most obvious.

Also note, that once the host is infected, the worm will grow exponentially if the host eats, drinks or even sleeps.  The Thief must do everything in his power to keep the host from doing any of these things.  We see examples of the Thief doing this by informing the host that “there are two approaching armies: hunger and fatigue, but a great wall keeps them at bay. The wall extends to the sky and will stay up until I say otherwise.”

sampler-pigThe Pig and the Sampler – When the Thief has finished his work, and the host is allowed to sleep and eat, the Worm grows inside the host.  It is during this point that the Worm begins to migrate to the appendages of host.

When the Thief pulled the wall down and allowed the host to eat, drink and sleep the worm grows making the host extremely “uncomfortable”.  At this point in the process, the worms are susceptible to worm charming.  Which is actually a real practice.  “In 2008 researchers from Vanderbilt University claimed that the worms surface because the vibrations are similar to those produced by digging moles, which prey on earthworms.”  The extremely loud sounds and music played into the ground by the Sampler causes the host to be charmed and brought to his location.

Various Samplers can use their power over the hosts for many different reasons.  But the first thing a Sampler must do is to find new hosts that are available for linking.  By finding new hosts the Sampler will then be able to psychically track and feed off of the host’s thoughts and memories for other purposes.  We see the Sampler utilizes his hosts to sample and record music of their lives and also play sounds out to the hosts as well.  The Sampler also is shown intervening on several occasions to lesson the chaos of life and keep the link from breaking.

Of all the cycles least understood from Upstream Color, the Sampler is hardest to grasp.  But of all three, the most powerful stage could very well possibly be the Sampler.  It is definitely the longest running cycle him great leverage over the hosts for the most sustainable duration.  We see the Sampler basically walking into the lives (even if only psychically) of the hosts he controls and even manipulating their lives.  At one point we see the Sampler rewriting memories when the hosts tries to kill herself.  The Sampler has enormous control over the subject and can even influence the individuals to do things – or not to do things at will.  And push come to shove, the Sampler always has the option of Worm charming the subject back to his location at will.

floristThe Orchid and E+P Exotics – Towards the tail end of the cycle we see two pigs mate and eventually the spread of pig carcasses that eventually create orchids and worms.  The reason the Sampler is not happy with the spread is because of the stress caused to the Pigs and also to the hosts inadvertently.  The worms are critical to the continuation of the cycle, but the chaos caused to Kris because of her inability to conceive was too much.

The E+P exotics employees search for and find rare flowers influenced specifically by the WPO cycle.  The pigs float downstream and get stopped in the current and decay.  The worm is still living at this point and it infiltrates the soil of the surrounding bank.  The orchids growing in that particular spot are infected by the worm.  The E+P Exotics employees are looking for the rare breed of orchid and this is indicated by the bright blue color of the orchid.

The florists, the hunters and gatherers of the worm, are usually an unwitting byproduct of the cycle and aren’t normally actively involved.  But the chance to garner increased revenue from the rare quality of the orchid the WPO creates is an end in and of itself.  Once the Thief finds a distributor of the infected flowers – he purchases them – and then searches the soil to get at the invaluable worm.  And with this step we have completed our walk through of the entire cycle.

Upstream Color Walk Through

Now that we have shown the disparate stages, it might be good for some of you  review the movies events in outline form.  And as we do, watch how the three stage Worm, Pig, Orchid cycle plays out.

  1. Thief takes out the trash, with thousands of paper links in it.
  2. We see the Thief pulling worms from the soil of orchids
  3. Kids being drinking a liquid strained over the worms
  4. The kids have some level of telekinesis abilities
  5. Thief forces the worm into the mouth of a woman named Kris (the host)
  6. Thief goes back to the Kris’s home and lays down the rules
  7. No drinking or eating, no looking at the Thief’s face, etc.
  8. Kris must write out Walden and create chain loops
  9. All the while the Thief begins emptying the hosts every last penny
  10. He does this by convincing Kris her mother has been taken hostage
  11. Once this is accomplished the host is allowed to eat and drink again and the Thief leaves
  12. When Kris is told she can eat she gorges herself into a hybernative state
  13. Upon waking, her body is writhing with nematodes under her skin
  14. The host attempts to remove the nematodes with a butcher knife without success.
  15. The Sampler worm charms Kris to his location using sounds that draw the worm
  16. Kris says that she wasn’t able to get them out
  17. The Sampler cuts a hole in Kris’ ankle and then draws them out of her
  18. He then inserts them into a pig that is located next to the host
  19. After this surgery Kris has visions of other humans living in her apartment
  20. Kris awakens on the highway completely unclear as to what happened to her
  21. She learns that she has lost her job and all of her money
  22. Kris meets Jeff on the train and the two are strangely attracted to one another
  23. The sampler is seen using his control to stand closely next to other hosts and watch them
  24. We then see Kris and Jeff’s pig begin to separate from the others
  25. And then we learn that Kris believes she is pregnant
  26. The technician says she can’t be pregnant because of the terrible  pelvic damage
  27. Kris and Jeff begin melding and confusing their back stories with one another
  28. Jeff now starts feeling pain that Kris is feeling and they even communicate to each other this way
  29. Kris’ pig has its babies and this completely wigs out Kris and Jeff
  30. Jeff punches co-workers and Kris busts out windows
  31. The piglets are caught and drowned in a stream
  32. The piglets decompose and create blue orchids and are collected by E+P exotics
  33. Jeff follows Kris as she instinctively finds the Sampler’s home
  34. They listen to the Samplers CDs and go back and find him
  35. Kris shoots the Sampler dead in the pen and she is reunited with her pig
  36. Kris and Jeff inform all the other hosts of what has happened to them
  37. They purchase the farm and take care of the pigs


Life Cycle Explanations – Walden

Some believe that all Upstream Color Explanations begin and end with a single book, Thareau’s ‘Walden’.  Flash back to the movie for a moment and remember that the book that Kris rewrites and then folds up into chains is Walden.  Remember the quotes Kris recites when coming up from the bottom of the pool?  Walden again.  So, because of the way Walden is interwoven into the movie many believe that it is integral to the movie.

The only glitch to this last sentence is that Shane Carruth has said over and over again in interviews, that it isn’t. That he actually hated the book in high school.  That it was just a random book he threw in.  Which just sets my brain off completely – like the Fourth of July.

So, obviously, there are two camps here on this particular point.  There are some who believe that Walden is too obvious and a serious red herring planted by Carruth himself to throw everyone off the true trail.  And there are others who believe wholeheartedly that Walden is not only important, but it is the key.

At first when I began looking into this movie I was firmly ensconced in the red herring camp.  100%.  I took Carruth at his word… it wasn’t important, he didn’t like the book, yadda yadda, and it just had a similar aesthetic.  An earthy feel to it like the movie he envisioned.  But as I began digging, and digging, and then chasing the rabbit further and further deeper into the rabbit hole I was shocked at what I began to find.  Eventually I realized that not only should I read Walden again but that I needed to do key word searches and analysis on the text.  And so I reread it.  And then I began reviewing my highlights and then hunting the text for critical words that I had seen as I read.

The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep warm, to keep the vital heat in us. What pains we accordingly take, not only with our Food, and Clothing, and Shelter, but with our beds, which are our nightclothes, robbing the nests and breasts of birds to prepare this shelter within a shelter, as the mole has its bed of grass and leaves at the end of its burrow!

And further on as I continued searching further in the novel…

The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well? You may say the wisest thing you can, old man—you who have lived seventy years, not without honor of a kind—I hear an irresistible voice which invites me away from all that. One generation abandons the enterprises of another like stranded vessels.

Is that a sort of brain control going on there?  A sort of repurposing of our thoughts or a reimagining of the possibilities?

I sometimes despair of getting anything quite simple and honest done in this world by the help of men. They would have to be passed through a powerful press first, to squeeze their old notions out of them, so that they would not soon get upon their legs again; and then there would be some one in the company with a maggot in his head, hatched from an egg deposited there nobody knows when, for not even fire kills these things, and you would have lost your labor.

Here you see quite clearly the life cycle played out here referred to by Carruth.

We are conscious of an animal in us, which awakens in proportion as our higher nature slumbers. It is reptile and sensual, and perhaps cannot be wholly expelled; like the worms which, even in life and health, occupy our bodies. Possibly we may withdraw from it, but never change its nature. I fear that it may enjoy a certain health of its own; that we may be well, yet not pure

And this final quote was the one that tipped me over the edge.  The awakening as if from a sleep.  An opening of our minds to a higher purpose and order.

So the point of Walden (as I see it anyway) is for mankind to harken back to the Earth… to return to a simpler life.  To grapple with the mud and the dirt of this life.  To abandon technology and the fakeness that surrounds us and return to the authenticity of living off the land. Or better stated – that we should AWAKEN to our role amongst the physical earth.  That we must become one with the cycles that we play a part of, and that we must accept our role in the larger world and the part that we play.

And this is the deeper thread running through Upstream Color as well – that the natural world is calling us to return to our part in the greater panoply. I happened upon a review of Upstream Color in The New Yorker by Caleb Crain that discusses the possible connections between Thoreau’s Walden and Upstream Color.  Crain goes on to suggest that the worm has possibly radicalized Kris and Jeff, attuning and awakening them to the natural world. Could this be the point of UC?  That we need to understand the larger context in the world in which we play every day?

Could it be that Kris & Jeff aren’t lost and adrift, but truly enlightened by their discovery made possible by their inclusion into the WORM/PIG/ORCHID cycle?  Maybe it is Kris that truly sees for the first time what everyone else needs to understand, and that is our place in the larger order of things.  She is, for the first time clearly seeing herself as part of a larger whole instead of shuffling through life alone and at a loss for purpose.

But its a severely sharp dual edged knife.  In that she has realized just how unoriginal her life is.  That she is not new or special, but a piece of a larger mosaic that is so far beyond her as to be nearly incomprehensible.   And maybe that is the core that Upstream Color taps into so brilliantly… our need and desire to be a part of something deeper, something bigger?  I personally want to know that I play a part in a near infinite cosmological journey – that my life has meaning and point.  I want to know that my futile scrapings in the dirt weren’t for nothing – that there was a purpose and a meaning to my time here on this hurtling crater of a planet.  Don’t you?  I mean, isn’t that the human condition?

This comes at the problem of Upstream Color from the other direction though.  Initially I believed that Kris was wronged by The Thief.  And she was, obviously.  Her money was taken and she had everything dear to her systematically ripped out of her hands.  But what did she get in return?

She became aware of Jeff and was given an attraction beyond herself.  “I’m going to contact you, but not about signage.  Yes?”  She was given a plan and a purpose.  She was given insight and clarity that she had never had before.  Kris was in tune with the Sampler and she heard him and his interractions within her life, his persistent meddling.  Their connection was a two way street that allowed Kris to feel and track the Sampler down ultimately.

The True Tragedy

This brings us to a key point in the movie and that of the ending.  The retribution.  Think about it for a millisecond and you will agree that justice was not done by the murder of The Sampler.  Right?  But as Kris and Jeff both awoke to their new reality completely unaware of The Thief she had nothing else to go on but that of involvement of The Sampler in her life.

But if anyone was “good” in the WPO cycle it would have to be The Sampler in that he kept the worm from killing Kris and Jeff.  Now, obviously, The Sampler is an opportunistic bastage that was out for his own good.  No?  But the surgery saved the lives of both Kris and Jeff.  This much is fact.  His only request was to sample from the lives of the people he saved.  Ok, maybe he’s worse than that.  But he is no Thief, that is my larger point.

And so when Kris and Jeff track down The Sampler – and Kris finds him, and kills him justice is clearly not done.  It ended the invasions in their lives.  But it did not clear up the injustice done them both.  Right?  So what was the larger point of The Sampler’s death?  Was it just to end the cycle?  Definitely not.  They just took the Sampler’s place as the caretaker of their pigs.

That is probably why I loved the ending of this movie so much.  It was both a Hollywood happy ending and a completely tragedy.  Kris killed the wrong person.  Or at the very least, the job was only half done.  The cycle will still continue, though at a different pace and in a different direction.  And ultimately Kris & Jeff remain transcendentally aware of their larger surroundings and the cosmological context within which they are embedded.  They are completely alive in this new space in their life while all around them the world continues on blissfully unaware of their larger purpose and meaning.

So I say the movie is about context.  It is about awareness and coming alive to the deeper meaning and purposes of our lives.  I say that the worm was just an agent by which Kris & Jeff had their minds opened to the realities around them that we ignore so readily.  I believe that Walden was a critical component to the larger subtext of this movie.  That the Earth and its cycles are the draw and the call to our lives daily.  That we can play a part in the world if we were to only open our eyes and come alive to this fact.  This resonates with me – but if you’ve read my blog for more than five minutes you know this already.  I already believe I have found the larger purpose and point the universe.  But that is a topic for another day, and another place.

Right now, I think that the biggest point to be made here is that Upstream Color was a marvelous movie by an ingenious writer, director, actor.  That we have been given a call to action to come alive to our individual points and purposes in life.  And that we should all collectively hold our breaths until we get a new movie from Carruth.