There a few things you should know about Primer before you plunge yourself into it. It’s not for everyone, so you should have some info on it.
- It is hard science fiction. The language is extremely technical and unforgiving. The filmmakers don’t care that you don’t understand the complexity of what is going on
- The narrative structure is a little difficult. Forget non-linear, it’s really off the rails. It’s narrated by a disembodied voice that confuses as much as it informs.
- The run time is 77 minutes. It’s a dense 77 minutes.
- The film only cost $7000 to make
Ok. Now, the best bet would be to go watch the film now. Watching the film with the minimum amount of information heightens the experience. This is true for most movies out there, but there some films that rely so heavily on the uniqueness of their concept, that even an ambiguous trailer is too much (although this one is pretty ambiguous). I’m almost regretting posting even that picture at the beginning of the post. Hell, I’m regretting saying it’s science fiction. So, if you can, don’t read anything past the trailer which i have so conveniently placed right below this until you see the film. I’m going to get spoiler heavy. Like ruin the movie spoiler heavy.
I first saw this film wandering through the aisles at Blockbuster (yup, Blockbuster). I had never heard of it, but those fancy schmancy leaves that make everything look like quality made me look twice. At first, the run time really turned me off. It’s barely a movie, not worth however much rentals where going for in 2005. And there was only one copy on the shelf and it looked like it had never been rented before. Eventually I convinced myself to at least look at the back of the DVD box. and then, those two glorious words popped out to me.
I’m a complete sucker for time travel movies. It a concept that can be played with in so many interesting ways. I’ve been fascinated with the genre mostly because of the influence Back to the Future had on me as a small child. I mean, thosemovies literally taught me English, so I’m indebted to the concept. I tend to always find something of value even in the most strained time travel premises (I’ve seen Freejack and enjoyed it, unironically).
Primer is unlike any time travel film I have ever seen. The science behind it alone is worth the price of admission. The first third of the film focuses on complex technical jargon, following a group of engineers who work for a big corporation by day and moonlight making/selling equipment in order to fund their side projects. Two of the engineers, Aaron and Abe, decide to go off on their own and start work on a separate project. The project was meant to make thing lighter (I think), which it achieved with the tiny side effect of time travel.
The second section of the film deals with the psychological, ethical, physical and existential questions that time travel produces. There are moment here that fill me with a strange sensation of dread. This is where the film truly starts. Abe and Aaron toy with ideas of making money on the stock market, belting some guy who truly deserves it, etc. They question existence in a world where they could conceivably paradox themselves out of it. It’s frightening to see them realize the grave mistakes they are heading towards. Something as simple as a cell phone ringing looks like it could mess up everything. It is slow and methodical as the initial technical jargon, but now their seems to path leading to a conflict beyond what anyone would think.
The film isn’t without flaws, but much of what people would consider effects of low production value can be attributed to artistic merit. There is no doubt that more money would have made the irritatingly grainy night scene bearable. Or maybe the cast would be more than just the filmmaker’s friends. But in the end, the low end vision is the most realistic. The initial time travel machine is a metal box made of scraps and loose wires.The human sized version is just PVC pipes and straps (and chemicals). They operate out of garages and self-storage facilities. These characters are on the low end of the money spectrum and the film quality imitates them out of necessity.
I’ll stress again, this film is not for everyone. Most of the people I’ve shown it to refuse to believe that what is on film constitutes a movie. It’s difficult and the plot is hidden beneath the character’s interaction. It’s weird and strange and won’t try to spoon feed you a single thing. And why should it? I’ve seen the film about a dozen times with twice as many people and still don’t understand the majority of what going on. That’s the fun of it, trying to work out what is exactly happening. I won’t speak about the ending. My thoughts on it are probably much different than most people’s and would compromise the experience if you’ve never seen it.
Apparently it’s gotten a little difficult to find or just expensive (it’s $43 on amazon), but there always Netflix, eBay, or what have you. So go out and get your hands on this film.