Was Grey Dreaming the Whole Time in Upgrade?

Leigh Whannell’s ‘Upgrade’ presents a thrilling adventure set in a futuristic landscape where rapid technological advancements have taken over several aspects of life. The film follows Grey Trace, a car enthusiast who prefers analog to digital and who ends up losing his wife, Asha, after an unexpected violent assault. The same altercation also leaves Grey quadriplegic and unable to hunt down his wife’s killers. Therefore, once the opportunity presents itself, the man ends up welcoming a high-level chip implant, Stem, in his neck that allows him complete physical control.

As the story progresses, Stem’s functions and abilities transform the scope of Grey’s potential, enhancing his overall skill level. Nevertheless, simultaneously, the robot’s influence over man’s life also becomes increasingly ambiguous. For the same reason, as the story’s end nears, landing Grey in a nightmarish scenario, the cryptic narrative may compel viewers to wonder whether or not the entire story has been a messed-up dream. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Separating Reality From a Dream

Grey and his wife, Asha, fall victim to a group of killers after the latter’s self-driving car unpromptedly steers them into a shady neighborhood. Consequently, a truck full of armed men attacks the couple, killing Asha and leaving Grey incapacitated. Although Grey survives the incident, his attacker splits open his spine. For the same reason, even after the best medical help, the man emerges on the other side with his body paralyzed from the neck down. In a turn of events, Grey’s work friend, Eron Keen, offers to perform an operation on the man to fuse his system with a chip Stem, which will allow him full mobility.

While Eron insists on keeping Stem’s addition to Grey’s system a secret from the authorities, the latter man finds a way to utilize the chip to fuel his need for vengeance. As it would turn out, Stem possesses great detective abilities due to his high intelligence and skill level. As a result, the chip is able to extract information about the killers from the same footage that had left the cops stumped. Initially, Grey only visits the killer’s address to collect tangible evidence that he can use to prove the man’s guilt to help Detective Cortez apprehend the killer. Nevertheless, a heated encounter and Stem’s convenient help lead Grey to kill the man in cold blood.

Grey ends up on the radar of some dangerous men as one thing leads to another. Nevertheless, under Stem’s encouragement, Grey’s need for revenge perseveres. Eventually, Grey discovers that Eron hired the super-soldiers to attack him and Asha on that fateful night, leading to an ultimate confrontation. However, during the same, another truth comes out in the open. Although Eron may have hired Fisk and his men— the former man was also working for another power: Stem.

Thus, Grey realizes Stem has been using him as a pawn to further his own agenda since the very start. After Eron created Stem, the AI-powered chip began to grow into its own and started craving a physical form. Therefore, it desired a human host to occupy and chose Grey as his victim. Once Grey, who has always been a technophobe, learns the same, he realizes his worst nightmares have come true. Earlier, in an effort to cut Eron out of the equation, Stem instructed Grey to hire a hacker and make modifications to its code. As a result, it no longer requires Grey’s command or consent to take over his body. Thus, Grey has essentially lost control of his own body.

On his part, Stem utilizes Grey’s body for its ultimate self-preservation, killing Eron to ensure he can’t stop the chip’s plans. Therefore, Grey is forced to carry out the robot’s immoral actions, taking innocent lives. Such a complete and utter loss of bodily autonomy, paired with the trauma of witnessing his own hands enact gross violence, torments Grey. Thus, it comes as a shock when he wakes up in a hospital bed in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, the man finds himself transported away from his previous bleak reality.

In Grey’s new reality, Asha is still alive, and Grey has only sustained mild injuries in an accident. With his body perfectly functioning and his wife back from the dead, this reality is a dream come true for Grey. In that moment, he can almost believe the past few days— Asha’s death, Stem’s arrival in his life, and brutal killings— have all just been a particularly weird dream. After all, Grey has always been skeptical of technology, especially the kind his friend Eron works on. As such, it makes sense for his brain to have thought up an elaborate situation after his body undergoes a traumatic accident.

For his part, Grey believes the same and decides to relish Asha’s presence back by his side. Nevertheless, the same is only a ploy for Stem to take complete control over his body. Outside of Grey’s head— where he’s stuck in a dream— Stem is still in control of the man’s body, aiming a gun at Detective Cortez’s head. Since Grey’s consciousness was becoming such a hindrance to Stem’s desires, the chip simply made it so that Grey would get lost in his own mind. It feeds the man a dream scenario where the film’s events haven’t happened, allowing him to soak in a happy ending. However, in actuality, Grey is only trapped in his own mind, paving the way for Stem to become the sole conscious inhabitant of his body.

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