"Time-Bending and Mind-Boggling"
PRIMER, at first glance, appears to be a cheap student film with a clever premise, but the story’s intellectual approach to a complicated subject captures viewers and holds onto them like a mean junkyard dog. The dialogue is reminiscent of a crisp David Mamet script. The low-budget, low-res camera work adds to the story’s realism.
PRIMER opens with four twenty-something friends working tirelessly in a home garage to build a profitable technical device. The four hold down engineering and software jobs during the day and spend their evenings and off-hours working together to build a better cyber mousetrap. Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) work late one night and discover they have hit upon a fantastic invention. They borrow a catalytic converter from Aaron’s car, copper tubing from a refrigerator and save receipts for every little purchase, but the device they build has unexpected side effects and long-lasting implications.
Flooding a small box with rayon gas and affecting the field within, Aaron and Abe discover that time is altered for objects inside. They decide to keep this discovery from their two friends and covertly build a larger version of the device in a nearby storage facility. Then, they use their own bodies to test the effects of this limited time-travel contraption. They know they cannot go back more than a few hours, but it is enough to allow them to buy and sell rising stocks at a tremendous profit.
Regrettably, there are physical consequences to the experiments. During the time they “go back,” their doubles are still walking around making decisions that can impact their future/present. In addition, the guys suffer from occasional bleeding ears and an inability to write legibly. Undeterred by these alarming health risks and seduced by the power this machine presents to them, Aaron and Abe continue to take numerous trips into the past.
PRIMER is one of those rare science fiction movies that presents paradoxes in a starkly unique way. It builds effectively with intriguing geek-speak and plausible resourcefulness by its energetic inventors. Bereft of expensive special effects, the movie works because the audience is drawn to the characters and mesmerized by the endless possibilities that could unfold.
PRIMER excels because of the psychological toll on these two men, their friendship, and their perspectives. One concludes that he is all knowing and can ultimately go back and benefit from knowing all the probabilities. The other becomes paranoid and struggles with the complexity of their discovery.
Toward the end, the movie takes a quantum leap and, sadly, may leave much of the audience falling behind. PRIMER either becomes too clever for its own good or it becomes too complex for ordinary folk to follow. Still, PRIMER is an enthralling journey that could only be made easier if the audience could go back in time and re-watch its convoluted parts repeatedly. (This time-travel “skill” will be available to the movie’s hardcore fans when it is finally released on DVD.)
PRIMER succeeds in telling a story that many will find hard to wrap their logic around. It is not for the masses, but for those who enjoy the hours of debate that can follow. As for the worldview represented, there is a clear humanist attitude about living above consequences and becoming “all-knowing.” This type of power appeals to our natural, sinful man. At the same time, there are unexpected and indirect consequences that befall these men. So, PRIMER becomes a bit of a cautionary tale with an obscured or undeveloped moral.
(H, B, L, V, A, D, MM) Humanist worldview about inventors playing with time and becoming all-knowing, with undeveloped moral elements; four light obscenities and two profanities; violence includes man smothering another, man found unconscious, and blood comes from people’s ears; no sex or nudity; drinking; smoking; and, implied stealing from companies, men profit from illegal day-trading, and themes of power, deception and lying.
GENRE: Science Fiction Thriller
PRIMER opens with four twenty-something friends working tirelessly in a home garage to build a profitable technical device. The four hold down engineering and software jobs during the day and spend their evenings trying to build a better cyber mousetrap. Working late one night, Aaron and Abe hit upon a fantastic time-altering invention, but they have no idea of the consequences involved. They decide to keep the discovery secret and covertly build a larger version of the device in a nearby storage facility. Then they test the effects of the contraption on themselves. They know they cannot go back in time more than a few hours, but it is enough to allow them to play the stock market at a tremendous profit.
PRIMER excels because of its focus on the psychological toll on these two men. One concludes that he is all-knowing and can ultimately benefit from knowing all the probabilities. The other becomes paranoid and struggles with the complexity of their discovery. Toward the end, the movie takes a quantum leap and, sadly, leaves much of the audience behind. Still, PRIMER is a compelling cautionary tale with an obscured moral.