Shane Carruth’s latest film, Upstream Color, the long-awaited follow up to 2004’s time travel tale Primer, is not an easy film. There’s no tidy resolution, practically every element is open to wide-ranging interpretation, and the end will leave you scratching your head for as long as you care to think about it. In short, it’s the kind of movie that is fun to sit around and argue about over beers with a couple of friends.
Talking with io9, Carruth chimed in with a few ideas of his own about the ending. That figures, the guy who wrote and directed the film should probably have some thoughts on the matter. Warning: there are some serious spoilers on the way if you haven’t had the chance to see Upstream Color yet. However, if you’re not particularly interested, or just don’t care, read on.
Henry David Thoreau’s Walden plays an important thematic role in the film, and one theory revolves around the idea of going back to nature. On a surface level, at the end, the protagonists and a bunch of other people go and live on a pig farm in the country. But this is a heavily metaphorical pig farm we’re talking about here. When asked about that topic, Carruth said:
It is—but it’s more about what those pigs are now embodying. I mean, there is a break of the cycle, [because] these people that have been affected by this [organism—a mind control worm] are now taking back ownership of the thing that they’re connected to. So in the rules of his film, that’s more or less is transcendence at the end in some form of another, to be able to be in the same place as [the pigs that have the worms inside].
Told you those were some seriously allegorical swine.
Carruth goes on to talk about how we’re so accustomed to how narratives wrap up, to how stories end, and this is one way in which he attempts to avoid the impulse to tie up every loose end and come to a clean, neat finale. Instead of concluding with the heavy lesson or moral of the story, this is his way of subverting that need.
It isn’t the end for these people, but another phase for them to explore. The characters, Kris (Amy Seimetz) and Jeff (Carruth), “break out” of their own narratives when they go in search of the Sampler. In this way they’re able to create a new one for themselves, and this is the endemic in the end of Upstream Color.