Movie Review – Primer (2004)

Posted on by Dave

By David Mayne


Directed By:  Shane Carruth
Starring:  Shane Carruth, David Sullivan

1.21 gigawatts!!!? Not so much…

Last night was, by far, the best episode of Cap’n Horatio’s Tin Foil Happy Time, bar none. Jeremy and myself tackled a true beast of a subject:  Time Travel. For those of you that missed it, you can listen to the roughly 2-hour show here. Though we started with the scientific aspects of time travel and the proven theories that go behind it, the show soon turned into a fantastic discussion on the overall ramifications, possibilities, and (perhaps) consequences associated with traveling through time. Time travel, as a real and doable thing as discussed on the show, would prove to be both incredibly difficult (bordering on impossible), and potentially dangerous, as the theory of time is just that:  theory. While math, physics, and equations will show that, indeed, “time travel” is in fact possible, our discussions last night and continued research tell us that the results and “consequences” of actual time travel are completely unpredictable and unknown.

After a seriously fun 2-hour show, Jeremy directed me to watch a film that dealt with time travel in a realistic, scientifically accurate way. While we have all seen films like Back to The Future, The Time Machine, and the Terminator series, serious time travel is something Hollywood usually ignores. Plutonium-powered DeLoreans, speeding recklessly through mall parking lots will not take you back to 1955…just as robots from the future won’t send back liquid-metal assassins to eliminate their political enemies as children. The science behind actual, theoretical time travel was, until 2004, something that most movie executives didn’t want to take a risk on.

Shane Carruth, a former software engineer with a degree in Mathematics from Stephen F. Austin State University, thought otherwise. With a meager budget of $7,000 and the technical know-how to tackle a really difficult subject, Primer was born. Prepare for a film that will go to great lengths in an effort to convey time travel as a real and scientifically possible feat, while at the same time completely challenging every movie-watching nerve you have to follow along, make sense of it, and simultaneously enjoy it. Primer is equal parts genius and nerve-racking splendor; its greatest accomplishment being its light-speed tech jargon betrayed only by…it’s light-speed tech jargon. You WILL need to watch Primer 2 or 3 times to fully grasp the big picture, and even then, I doubt highly that you still won’t have questions. I did, I do, and I will continue to have them. Don’t get me wrong, while Primer IS a challenging film to wrap your head around with its advanced-user-interface, it simultaneously commands you to be in awe of its far-reaching overtones, themes, and sheer magnitude. With under $10k, Carruth has created a film much deeper, much more thought-provoking, and much more intelligent than films three thousand times it’s budget.

Primer tells the story of 4 engineers:  Aaron (Carruth), Abe (Sullivan), Robert, and Phillip. While all gainfully employed at a large tech firm in the area, they spend their nights in Aaron’s garage, experimenting with new technology that they hope will eventually net them some form of profit, freeing them from their daily corporate doldrums. While the four argue quite a bit over which direction the research should be going, Arron and Abe form a deeper bond and pursue, in secret, a side project dealing with reducing the weight of any given object, without reducing its mass. Purely by accident, they notice that among the objects that they experiment with in the machine, which is about the size of a dishwasher, a wristwatch comes out showing an elapsed time many times longer that it had been in the box. Think:  you put a watch that reads 1:00pm into this machine for 5 minutes, yet when removed the time reads 10pm…the watch aged 7 hours and 55 minutes (in 5 minutes your time). Follow? If you don’t understand that sentence, you’re going to have trouble with Primer. 🙂

When Abe hints to Aaron that he honestly believes that they have stumbled onto some form of time travel, Abe secretly builds a larger version of the box in a storage garage, one that he can fit into. After traveling to an earlier point in THAT day, Abe meets up with Aaron and takes him to the storage garage to show Aaron, from afar, another version of Abe entering the storage garage. Hard to follow? This is nothing. But fret not Amigos…the film will take you for a ride, but it’s not impossible to grasp if you pay attention.

As Abe and Aaron build another box and jointly begin traveling (in small increments) back in time, they discover both good and bad…not to mention, unforseen consequences to their newly discovered technology.

Primer is a fantastic film dealing with a sensible, scientific approach to time travel. The cool thing is that Primer shows how it might actually work, and what would potentially happen if it did. No punching in exact coordinates to go back and meet your parents; no visiting a futuristic version of your own city with flying cars and racing hover boards. The glamor and reality of time travel might be much more simplistic, as depicted in Primer.

I have to say, Primer surprised me on many levels, and challenged many established theories dealing with the subject of time travel. If you like high-tech jargon, time travel, and more interweaving plot lines than a Quentin Tarrantino movie, watch Primer. I can’t wait for my next time!




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