Monday, January 02, 2006


I just finished watching this on DVD. My head is spinning. My brain is working overtime, trying to figure out all the details. I've spent the last hour reading up on the imdb messageboards trying to make sense of the story.

Primer is a movie where time travel is used to brilliant effect. Two young engineers invent what appears to be a device that allows you to travel short distances to the past. It starts with a lengthy fictionalized scientific discussion on how the two guys actually create the machine. This part is told in a realistic manner that makes the premise of time travel actually plausible. What happens if it actually works?

The ability to go back in time, armed with full knowledge of what the present has in store, is a very powerful weapon. We see subtle changes in our two protagnists' behavior. They start out innocently, using future knowledge of stock prices to their financial benefit. But they end up doing more, seduced by the power of being able to know everything in advance. There are major plot twists near the end of the movie, at which point I completely lost track of what was going on. It becomes a complex puzzle, as layers upon layers of time travel adjustments and interactions between different iterations of past selves takes place. And it's a fun, bewildering ride.

You really need to pay attention while watching this film. The ending left me saying 'huh?' and it took me some time browsing the message boards, reading alternate user interpretations before I got a semblance of what actually happened near the end. If you like thinking and puzzle movies you will love this one. But if your idea of a good movie is to relax and watch the next car chase scene with explosions you will probably hate this one.

My personal interpretation: The focus of Primer concerns various time travel possibilities. How does this affect the parties who can control time. How does it deal with certain causality conflicts i.e. killing one's own grandfather, thus preventing your birth, etc. We are given a realistic interpretation of what could actually occur and a subtle commentary on how power and control affects the human psyche.

This movie was made on an extremely tight budget, reportedly just $7,000. Many of the scenes were shot in one take. And the two main actors end up telling the story of events that happened rather than us seeing the events ourselves. One major complaint I have is that a lot of the big points that would have made the story easier to understand were not emphasized to the viewer. So we are left with lots of small clues and left wondering whether they are significant or not. The movie could benefit by making some of the important parts easier to understand, with dialogue and timing organized to underline the key events. Because this was not done, I found myself having to watch the DVD more than once to get a better grasp of the story.

I'd like to see this movie remade with a bigger budget. With some of the scenes shown to the viewer as it occured rather than have it narrated by the actors. Perhaps tweak and revise the screenplay to dumb it down slightly and make it easily digestible in small doses rather than all at once. I can't wait for director Shane Carruth's next film.

All in all, a unique story. A brilliant geek movie that didn't get much mainstream attention.

Rating: 4/5 * * * *
What happens if it actually works?


rmacapobre said...

how different is it from the butterfly effect?

rob said...

Butterfly Effect is more about entertainment and drama while Primer is more realistic, showing how it could actually happen in real life. Primer will make you think more.