Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: Primer

Non Spoiler Review:
When I first watched Back to the Future, the final scene with Marty returning to the present to save Doc Brown from the terrorists had me scratching my head. Won't another Marty be arriving afterwards. And then another? And another...

Primer is a small but really thought-provoking film from 2004, and it seriously surpasses some of the best time travel movies. Shane Carruth wrote, directed and stars (as Aaron) in the film, along with David Sullivan (Abe).

Primer deals with some engineers who, on the side, attempt to assemble some patentable inventions out of their garage. Abe and Aaron are the primary players of this foursome, and when they discover their invention has achieved a practical form of time travel, they keep it to themselves and proceed to build a human size box that allows travel into the past.

This is an extremely well-thought out film that addresses a lot of the idiosyncrasies of time travel that many big budget movies ultimately fudge, overlook, or ruin entirely. Abe and Aaron have no grandiose notions aside from travelling a few hours into the past to buy stocks. They take great pains to not impact causality and create paradoxes—these are engineers, after all. But mistakes do happen, and ideas get a little bolder that start impacting events.

The first thirty minutes were a bit tough to get through, as it begins with a lot of random conversations introducing the characters and engineers discussing patents and experiments. It's filmed very low budget (something like $7000) but it does deliver an interesting look and feel once you get used to it. The equipment and eventual time travel tech is nothing outrageous and seems plausible when you buy into the concept with its own inherent logic.

Halfway through Primer, things get extremely complicated, and the consequences of these multiple time journeys suddenly unfold into a  tangled situation for Abe and Aaron. The movie becomes a mystery and a thriller as we're brought along with the main characters struggling to figure out what's going on. There were some genuinely creepy and disturbing elements, as random events occur that the characters can't explain, as well as mysterious physical maladies, and like Abe and Aaron we're left wondering what alternate timelines have suddenly disappeared altogether.

There are annoying aspects that could be off-putting to the average filmgoer—the narrator's voice is a bit overly dramatic at times. The conversations appear very unscripted, and so it's easy to lose key plot points as Abe and Aaron ramble on about mundane things, and I found myself rewinding and re-listening quite often. But the film is less than 90 minutes, so it does reach its climax quickly.

Be warned. Primer left me extremely confused, and I sat in rapt attention throughout. But I immediately wanted to rewatch it, and  the notions put forth prompted a lot of thought afterwards, much along the lines of Inception or Donnie Darko, so if that's your thing, it's very likely you'll love this and find it rewarding. Think of Primer as a challenge that ages well with multiple viewings.

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