PRIMER, Shane Carruth, Sundance Film Festival, Upstream Color

Breaking Down Shane Carruth’s Enigmatic Upstream Color

Upstream Color is an indie science-fiction film written by Shane Carruth. He is best known for his 2004 debut movie ‘Primer’. His next film, Upstream Color first premiered  January 21, 2013, at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Shortly after that a theatrical release in U.S.A on April 5, 2013, which Carruth distributed himself. To explain this he said the idea behind distributing his own movie had to do with contextualization.

What is Upstream Color About?

Upstream Color begins with a man known as the thief who is gathering some kind of larva that affects the human mind when it is swallowed. The movie is centered around two leading characters Kris and Jeff,  played by Amy Steinmetz and Shane Carruth respectively. The movie begins with Kris, who the thief kidnaps after he tasers her. He then drugs her with an odd pill which affects her mentally and causes her to be hypnotized.

In her state, he forces her to ingest some capsules that contain a live larva that you can locate in the thief’s orchid flower, which afterward affects her system as it is infected with a live roundworm. Kris who previously had been allowed only small portions of water and also stopped from taking solid food was now released from the prevention of food so as to enable the roundworm to grow. She later wakes up from a deep sleep after eating too much and notices she has live tapeworms moving in her body. She tried unsuccessfully to take it out with a kitchen knife.

Subsequently, a pig farmer pulls Kris to him with the use of infrasonic, that draws worms. He then moves the worm in her body to a little pig. After a series of events, Kris wakes up without any memory of had happened. She had been unconscious in her SUV.

One year later, Kris meets Jeff on a train ride and instantly connects with him. After they meet several times after, a relationship starts and they spend the night, which is when they figure out they have similar stitching scars from their forgotten transfusion, as well as similar experiences. Such as Jeff loosing his job as a broker, and both of them having a psychotic breakdown around the same time. The audience at this time gets to know how they have been feeling, and the similarities it has to two pigs, one of them being the pig that houses Kris parasites.

For example, when the pig becomes pregnant, Kris herself thinks she is pregnant and visits the doctor for consultation. But what she finds she has is cancer, which they are able to remove.

When the sampler realizes the pig that houses Kris parasite gave birth, he puts the newborn piglet in a bag and throws them in a river. Later on, when the piglet rotten, they turn the water blue, leading to the growth of blue orchids which farmers harvest and sell in the area the thief operates.

These piglets drowning somehow affects both Kris and Jeff, as they are filled with frustration, loss etc. Eventually, this event makes Kris and Jeff remember the others personal history as theirs. Ultimately, the movie ends with the sampler dying after Kris shoots him, and the thief not getting what he wanted, because the pigs are taken care of and no pigs drown and the river doesn’t turn blue anymore.

In the last scene, we see Kris holding a piglet at rest.

Response to Movie

Shane Carruth also directed, produced, edited, and composed the movie. According to critics, at first glance the movie is incomprehensible,  but ever since its screening at Sundance Film Festival, it has earned a lot of accolades.

Salon’s Andrew commented on the movie that he was instantly taken in by the strange, and a precise realm of imagination, audio as well as impression Carruth created with its blown-out digital color scheme and Intimate attention, which at the same time appears to be modern America and also an alien space of disconnection.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film, based on 136 reviews the movie has an eighty-five percent approval with an average rating of 7.9/10

The Hollywood Reporter said Shane Carruth movie was a movie about cinema impression and technique, and called the experience of watching the movie sensuous and highly visceral, and that after the two leading character meet, the movie whose process was a rhythmic wave, takes us to direction of romance, even though they have been engineered to connect in some way.

Film critic Mike D’Angelo said that though the movie had a good amount of dialogue between characters, in a way it was a silent movie. He also said that the movie was not focused only with the color but also the feel of it. The texture of it. And how it also made a study of people who were damaged and the process of recovery which he used to claim back powerful ideas that have become clichés.

There are several questions that have been asked concerning this indie gem. For example, why was the movie called Upstream Color? On this subject Shane Carruth when asked why he named the movie upstream color, he said that in the movie, the major characters are being changed by far away elements they can’t talk to. Therefore the three points in the triangle, with regards to the worm-pig-orchid cycle, every one of them are carrying out actions that happens to be separate from the subsequent one in the line, and that they were pretty much all struggling with issues that on the face of it came from “upstream… The shape of the narration of the story was upstream, so calling it that was easy, but as for why he added color he wasn’t sure…at that time the name upstream color seemed appropriate.

Why Use Pigs?

Shane Carruth simply said the reason for this was because pigs could stay in one place unlike say another animal like a chicken. You wouldn’t want the sampler chasing about chickens. And pigs also fit into the image of his movie and they weren’t too exotic. Also, Pigs were psychologically similar to animals as well.

What is the Movie About?

Question on what the movie was about, Shane Carruth said it had a great deal to do with what those pigs at the moment were embodying. He was talking in regards to, what you will discover as a break of the cycle. These people that have been impacted by this are now taking back control of the thing which they’re linked with… He also said he didn’t assume that a narrative was most effective when it was attempting to educate you on a lesson, or alternatively discourse an exact basic fact.  But rather an exploration of something that was commonplace as well as universal, was where the truth was most likely to come from.


  1. Shane Carruth-Jeff
  2. Amy Steinmetz- Kris
  3. Andrew Sensenig-Sampler
  4. Thiago Martins- Thief
  5. Marco Antonio Rodriguez played MRI Tech
  6. Brina Palencia played Woman in Club
  7. Kathy Carruth  played Orchid Mother
  8. Myles McGee played Monty
  9. Frank Mosley played Husband
  10. Lynn Blackburn played an HR Manager
  11. Meredith Burke played Orchid Daughter
  12. Andreon Watson played Peter
  13. Ashton Miramontes played Lucas
  14. John Walpole played a Bank Investigator
  15. Carolyn King played Wife
  16. Kerry McCormick played OBGYN

Upstream Color Analysis: Fragmentation of Memory

A brief analysis of the filmmaking techniques and directorial choices of Shane Carruth’s 2013 experimental film Upstream Color and how they complement the main themes of the story.

Walden Connection: The Thoreauvian Agenda in Upstream Color

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PRIMER, Primer 2004, Primer Film, Shane Carruth, Sundance Film Festival, Sundance winner

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