on April 23, 2005
The "whole package" is what this movie is about. It would seem that the intangibles combined with the intentional-create a synergy that captivates the mind!
"The permutations are endless" well sums up the movie. What would you do...if you could have perfect hindsight and foresight-how long would your altruism and your noble idealism last?
It's so dimensional you will watch it over and over. I read where some feel they have it figured out, but the sage advice comes from a fan that says "stop reading and keep watching!"
The low-budget while evident at times, actually adds to the mystique. I found myself annoyed by the slightly muffled and sometimes garbled soundtrack-which incidentally improved towards the middle (probably as Shane developed his prowess with audio and the actors begin to project a bit more). The graininess of the film shows through at times, but once again- it sets the mood and actually looks very intentional. Yet, that very tension actually sets you up for the true impact-when you realize the "permutations are endless."
"Primer" is one of those very rare movies that comes along to give Hollywood a real kick in the pants-to say "THIS is how you create a thriller"-it's in the heart, not in the budget. It's amazing what $7k and a man with a vision can do!
Primer is already a cult classic and will be discussed for years to come. It's definitely not for everyone, but for those who enjoy heady, multi-dimensional movies-it will remain a standard.
on July 22, 2005
If you like cerebral movies and twisty, problematic plots; films that leave you thinking - like that haunting feeling you may have had after you first saw "The Matrix"... you'll likely enjoy this flick.
(Think: THX-1138, I Heart Huckabees, The Matrix, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Pi, A Boy And His Dog, etc.)
If you just want to sit and veg infront of a motion picture, you like "feel good movies", or like big noises, special effects, high drama & action for drama & action's sake (not that there's anything wrong with this at all - think: Hitch, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Out of Africa, or Star Trek - The Movie), then this movie will likely leave you wanting. It is, relatively speaking, a geek movie. And not in the sense of "Real Genius".
You can read as much as you like about the plot, etc. in other reviews. I choose not to give away too much about specifics in my reviews.
The part that I really liked about this movie is its exploration into what happens in the human character and their relationships when they stumble onto a resource that provides great benefit and huge circumstance, and yet don't really fully understand or prepare themselves for how/why it works or the implications it brings with it. The juxtaposition of being in a situation that is unfolding with unprecidented information allowing one to predictably alter said situation's outcome - and then dealing with the newly generated results, that one could not so easily predict - heady stuff. Add to that some plausible sounding science (fiction) and recursive situational examination, and you have a formula for a great story that requires you to focus.
And THAT'S what this movie requires - your undivided focused attention. Be ready to THINK, solve, and be mentally challenged. I think that is why this movie won awards - it's challenging subject matter that revolves around complex situations, both technically and psychologically. The questions it raises can be haunting indeed.
The fact that it is an incredibly low budget film is both astounding and supplies a vehicle for confusion. The actors are first timers (as is the writer/director/editor/janitor/camera operator... you get the idea.) This means that there is no room for verbose explanation. YOU have to stay alert and figure stuff out. There is no "high emotion" drama occuring as these are not trained method actors. And at the same time, personlly (having been a technoid for a long time), I think they do a very good job of depicting how intellectual, engineering types would approach/react/respond to the situations presented in the story.
If you are a techie, scientist, metaphysician, psychologist, etc. or a fan of any of these, then you will probably dig this somewhat unsettling romp.
If not - if you don't like engineering/techno-babble stuff or movies that require you to THINK/SOLVE, don't bother wasting your $ or time. Wait for it to hit network TV when it's free and there's no guilt in hitting the Channel +/- button.
Lastly, I have to say that it is a very clean-cut movie. There's really no violence, no sexual themes, and little to no profanity (it got a PG-13 rating because the word 'fags' was spoken once). I really appreciate that as well.
I give it 4 stars because I like intellectual teasers that pose introspective questions. And because it was created for next to nothing, yet provides (me) a level of entertainment at a level of a John Carpenter, George Lucas, etc. $$$$$$ movie. While it's not about the presentation as much as the content, the low-budget look & feel seem only to add to this movie's presentation making it perhaps a bit more accessible or 'real'.
on March 27, 2005
I saw this film on a whim with little knowledge of the story or acclaims. My physics background definitely helped me get a better grasp of the complex subject matter. Don't get me wrong, I left the theatre as dazed and confused as most people did. But, it was somewhere along the lines of complete awe.
This film is probably one of the best films I've seen dealing with time travel. The grainy, washed out quality of the film gave it a realistic documentary style. I didn't see the comparisons with Memento that most people refer to. The feeling I got from the movie was closer to the intesity I felt when I watched The Insider. I just felt tense and uneasy as the characters fiddled with their new "toy". The soundtrack had a very good ambient touch that helped add emphasis to the seriousness of the film.
So, in short; if you like intellectual, intense, dramatic, sci-fi movies, then you'll like this film. And, yes it may be a little to artsy for some. If Timecop is your favorite movie then you probably won't like Primer (jab).
on November 13, 2005
Plot Summary Two friends and research entrepreneurs serendipitously develop a time travel machine. Thankfully free from an overt attempt to try to articulate the technical solution to time travel, the movie deals with the progressive temptations the friends face as they plunge deeper into a dizzying map of future-past interdependencies. They make the expected exploitation of the stock market but their dabblings with the relationship between future and past and present begin to be concerned with friends and family. As they do this, the movie becomes increasingly confusing due to the complexities of the causalities and changes they are working in the lives of other people.
Script The script is pretty solid, especially considering the complexity of the story line. The dialogue is natural, to the point where I wondered if most of it was improvised.
Acting and Character Development Surprisingly good. The two primary characters play off each other well. Their dialogue together is natural and real. They have a best-friend chemistry together.
Cinematography and Editing The cinematography is remarkable for a low budget independent movie. The color is great, the composition is creative and it helps tell the story. It does this by creating uncertainty in the time frame during their iterations of time travel. Toward the last third of the movie, the editing becomes very confusing: the protagonists are shuffling their time trips and this makes the storyline difficult to follow. I say this is good because I think that was the intent. They wanted to convey that there was complexity and uncertainty associated the implications of time travel. The audience is confused because they are confused and uncertain.
The movie is compelling. I kept thinking throughout the movie how remarkable it was that it was such a well made movie. The acting, the concept, the script... it all comes together to create a compelling movie. Yes, it is not clear and confusing.
Look, let me tell you a story.
About ten years ago, I was into John Steinbeck. I read many of his novels: Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, To A God Unknown, Of Mice and Men, The Winter of Our Discontent, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, The Pearl, Acts of King Arthur.
So, have you ever read The Grapes of Wrath? Man, it's not a pleasant read. Ponderous is the world that comes to mind. I finish the novel on Thanksgiving weekend. I happen to be sick from food poisoning due to some lovely Wendy's food. The incessant dry heaves only added to the monotony of The Grapes of Wrath. When I finished the book, I tossed it down and said, "Man, that was ponderous." And then I realized the brilliance of Steinbeck. He wanted me to feel what the intinerant farmers felt.
<u>Primer</u> is confusing because that's what the two men felt. It's confusing to you because it was confusing to them.
TRESCA-PRIME: Primer is a no-frills science fiction film that details a realistic portrayal of time travel. Like Donnie Darko, it examines what happens when humans discover they can influence time...and then just how little control they really have over it. Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) struggle to create a magnetic invention in their garage, only to stumble upon time travel. And once Pandora's Box is opened, there's no going back. In no time (pun intended), they're sending themselves into the past. This leads to a perpetual struggle to avoid paradoxes that most time travel stories don't consider. When duplicate cell phones are in the same time stream, which one rings first? Can you really avoid changing the outcome of reality simply by avoiding your prime self? And who is really the "first" prime anyway? The film explores all these possibilities, which makes it an interesting "what-if" scenario that exponentially spins more and more questions. That said, I have to admit that my first viewing of Primer wasn't all that favorable. The dialogue sounds like it came out of Clerks, the film is often grainy and choppy, and there's almost no action whatsoever throughout the script. Perhaps my future selves will have a different opinion.
TRESCA-2: On second viewing, the term "Primer" takes on new meaning. Primer can mean an introductory textbook, and indeed we discover that Aaron was providing a guideline for future events to his Prime self--in other words, a textbook of sorts as to how to relive his life again without causing a paradox. Primer can also mean white paint, used coat something for the first time. As Aaron discovers he can go back in time, he begins to whitewash events, making himself look like a hero and giving himself the best possible outcomes. But are these changes merely cosmetic, like paint? Finally, there's the notion of Primer as an explosive, setting off a disastrous chain of events. And the end of the film leaves us with the certainty that something very bad is about to happen.
TRESCA-4: Another alternative my former selves hadn't thought of was Primer as being first and primary. Once Aaron discovers the ability to create multiple versions of himself, he becomes increasingly obsessed with controlling them. And of course, each Aaron in the past feels exactly the same way. So how do you become the prime? How do you become the person who is control of your own destiny? How do you become your own God? Aaron and Abe (Abraham) are Biblical names and their inclusion is certainly not an accident.
TRESCA-8: Seeing the movie again really makes you appreciate exactly how much work went into crafting Primer. Dialogue and scenes that seem odd and disjointed make perfect sense when you realize it's the time doubles tweaking the timeline. The more duplicates that get involved, the more the film becomes fuzzy and unfocused, a sometimes annoying but important visual cue. And always there is the suspicion that something is off, from the "rats in the attic" to Abe waking up laying face down on the floor, to the fact that Aaron doesn't want to "talk to those kids who hang out" with Abe. Why? Multiple viewings tie it together.
TRESCA-16: Primer is probably one of the most realistic portrayals of time travel science in recent memory, but that doesn't necessarily make it an engaging film. Primer strains our patience. Most of the time, the characters stand around chatting with each other from innovative camera angles. The climactic moment, a scene where an ex-boyfriend shows up with a shotgun at a party, is never even shown. And the grainy footage, the monotone dialogue, the talking-over-each-other style of acting, all make the film seem more like a reality show than a movie. It doesn't have the slick sensibilities of Donnie Darko or the neatly wrapped storyline of Groundhog Day. And yet, the nihilistic outcome of the film is too powerful to ignore, sticking with you through multiple future viewings.
In short, Primer is both a fantastic piece of thoughtful science fiction and a challenging viewing experience. By all means watch it. You owe it to your future selves.
on April 19, 2006
'Primer' is a film about that most famed and classic sci-fi concept, time travel. Many films about time travel simply use it as a plot device, a way to get their characters to a different age, but 'Primer' is one of those works that's interested in the concept of time travel in and of itself, and the complications and paradoxes inherent in such activities. Needless to say, it doesn't explain or resolve these concerns, indeed they can't be resolved, but it does result in a very interesting, dense film. Like many, probably most viewers of the film, I wasn't entirely sure what had happened as the film ended the first time around. I got a better, much more certain grip on it after watching it a second time, and I actually think the movie became a bit less interesting when it's more fully understood, but it's still an intriguing web.
The film opens by introducing us to 4 young engineer types who work together on side projects in their spare time. Frankly, we don't know too much of what they're actually doing, we just watch them work for a while as the group is pared down to two central figures, Abe and Aaron, who create a strange new invention, which they contain in a small steel box. Even they're not entirely sure what it is or what it does, but their experimenting with it reveals that objects contained within the box are removed from the conventional timeline, and they eventually discover that this device can allow them to travel backwards in time. The rest of the film shows us the difficulties that come from their experimenting with the machine. These opening sections alone will doubtless scare some people off, as they're filled with techspeak. It's not as hard to understand as some would have you believe, but maybe I just let the words and concepts I'm unfamiliar with fly by with out concern because, in the end, this stuff doesn't much matter. They are making.... something, somehow. How they do it doesn't matter all that much, it's just a play to sell you on the reality of the film and draw you in, and it worked for me, anyway.
The time machines themselves are intriguingly different from what you'd usually see in a modern sci-fi film. Again, they're just boxes, and you travel backwards in time simply by sitting in them after they've heated up. Furthermore, you only move backwards in real time, i.e. you get in the box at 6 P.M. and stay there for 6 hours and it's now noon. This sort of time travel is amusingly mundane, allowing for simple practical problems and benefits, and forcing the characters to continuously deal with potential timeline deviations as they're living through an immediate past where their past self currently exists. Thus, it comes down to living the same day twice, the first time around planning it all out, the second time reaping the benefits. Of course, the short timeline means that they aren't allowed to advance particularly ambitious goals, not much beyond making money on the stock market, but Writer/Director/Actor/Everything Shane Carruth does a good exploring the sort of complications related to such short distance time travel, and this is where the major intrigue of the film comes in. For example, Aaron, at one point, brings his cell phone with him on one of their trips, and it rings. This begs the question, is the time symmetry affected? Is his other cell phone also ringing? They don't know. They also note small, amusing points, like how the storage unit security guard always sees them come in to gain access to the time machine, but never sees them come out, and how they must, the first time thru the day, bring in an extra car in the morning to the storage facility, as the car that they take there won't actually be there yet when they get out. Obviously, the potential complications of time travel have been considered before, but you usually don't see this kinda contemplation in a film, and it felt relatively new and different to me, anyway. And, again, it's interesting to see a film with simple, everyday concerns related to time travel rather than just the bigger overlying concepts.
The film can be quite difficult to follow, as it, for the most part, simply moves forward in the later timelines of the film, rather than just showing us the very first, original timeline and then the various permutations. For example, we see that Abe has traveled back in time before we learn that they have the ability to do so-- After all, he traveled back in time to *before* he was actually was able to do so in order to discuss it with Aaron, so this is the scene that we actually watch. This also allows for some unanswered questions which are legitimately left unanswered. For example, at one point they notice that one Mr. Granger has used the time machine and now has a double, but neither they nor us knows why. Again, they haven't told him about it *yet*, so why would they know? Eventually things spiral out of control, as Aaron and Abe have ideas about manipulating the past beyond simply cheating at the stock market, and they grow paranoid and lose their trust for one another and so on, leading to problems relating to maintaining the timeline and dealing with doubles and so on. I won't go in to too many specifics, and while the final third of the picture can be tough to follow it is, again, interesting.
This film was really shot on the cheap. Reportedly a miniscule $7,000. It's a fairly professional affair considering that, cleanly and competently shot, and with acceptable acting. (Fortunately, the film is very staid, with the characters generally discussing things in a calm manner, thus requiring little real acting or emoting). The picture is pretty damn grainy at times, and the sound isn't always too hot, but it's never painful to watch, and even has some nice cinematography at moments.
Yeah, this is a neat film. I don't think it's quite the mind puzzle that most people make it out to be, though I certainly don't claim to be 100% sure of everything that happened, but it's definitely a lot more dense and intriguing than the vast majority of the films out there. (I must also note, however, that I don't really think that everything is supposed to tie itself together cleanly and clearly, no matter how carefully you look at it. Indeed, the fact that it can't all be put together is the major point, and that the situation has become to complicated to be surely dissected.) Definitely worth a look if this is your kinda thing.
on October 24, 2004
Engineer turned filmmaker Shane Carruth's debut film, "Primer," examines the overwrought theme of time travel in an expressive, refreshing light.
Filmed with a budget of $7,000, which hardly covered the cost of its 16mm film stock and camera rental, "Primer" is by no means the next obtrusive sci-fi PG-13 Hollywood blockbuster. Often compared to "Memento" and "Pi," the film utilizes neither special effects nor flashy spectacle, yet creates an astounding world both scientifically complex yet personally grounded.
Writer/director/star Carruth's story revolves around four friends who, outside of their suit-and-tie jobs, spend hours of their free time in a garage working on an ambiguous science project. There are moments of frustration and failure, but ultimately efforts result in a box-like machine that has various unmatchable capabilities; most intriguingly, it can "degrade" time. Given the machine's potential, the men realize that they have created something too dangerous to market. The question is then, how not let its technology go to waste.
Technically, as the story shifts to a focus on the two main characters, Aaron (Carruth) and Abe (up-and-coming actor David Sullivan), "Primer" turns to a path frighteningly close to the cliché time travel story. While exploiting the possibilities of time travel with newly built human-sized boxes, Abe and Aaron soon realize the inconceivable dangers they have brought upon themselves and those they love. Haven't we seen this before?
However, the film's low budget and close knit cast and crew ultimately shine through brightly. The Grand Jury Prize at Sundance is not awarded carelessly. With an entire supporting cast consisting of friends and family of its unpaid stars, who also doubled as the crew, there is a sense of trust and unity emanated by the actors' performances and the film itself. It becomes clear that the volatile relationship between Abe and Aaron is truly the centerpiece of the film's script.
Yet the film's greatest success sadly lies in its ability to confuse the viewer. The time in which events take place, the characters involved, and the reasons for various actions become blurred. And with a 78 minute running time, there is certainly a yearning for more.
While the scientific aspects of the film are neither sufficiently thorough nor simple, the core of the film lies in its emotion. "Primer," beautifully shot in an amateur yet sophisticated style, appeals to a mature audience able to delve into the profundity of the human spirit. Underneath the stolid science and unavoidable confusion, there is a human sensitivity that we all can relate to.
on August 15, 2005
It is difficult to appreciate a book or movie if you can't identify with one of the characters. Primer has two main characters who, despite some minor differences, are pretty much the same. If you can't relate to this character, you don't stand a very good chance of enjoying the film.
Personally, I enjoyed this film without any handicaps allowed for budget. It wasn't, "this is a good film for $7,000." It was, "this is a very good film." If you don't have the budget, the script and the acting need to carry the film. I don't personally agree the acting was wooden, I thought the dialog and delivery was very realistic. It is one thing to have a cracking script, but writing a good script to be realized around the resources you have available is astonishing.
I watched Primer three times. It isn't long - only about 80 minutes. Each time I watched it, new details emerged. I did not catch everything the first time through and that is ok, although sometimes it was a problem with the mechanics of putting together a film. For example, when Abe and Aaron lift off the box cover after a problem occurred, the director cut to black and then cut to Abe lying on the floor. I thought something happened to Abe, which confused me for a while. This would have easily been rectified by a fade out to black at that point instead of a hard cut. I'm guessing there was not enough footage available for a proper fade.
After the weekend, I'm still thinking about the film and I love it when that happens. I don't have any bias towards Hollywood films, I like a good popcorn cruncher with explosions as much as the next guy, but sometimes I feel the weight of the budget and the decision-making committee that goes along with it. You end up with entertaining films that don't really take too many chances. This is a really good antidote for that. If I'm watching something that is the product of a singular vision, I'm out of the safety box of focus groups and test screenings and that means that anything is possible. I love that.
I hope Shane Carruth gets an opportunity to continue his film career. I wish him a bright future.
Recommended for people who like independent films, geeks, time travel aficionados, people who have worked in startups, or around engineers.
Not recommended for children, AARP members, people who don't like non-linear narrative, or dates.
on March 15, 2005
People throw around five stars on Amazon all the time, so I will to. I can't say Primer is the best movie out there, but it ranks with the best on enough levels that it's more than worth a watch.
Topically, Primer is about a couple of guys who build a time machine. But the story is not just about engineers, it's told from and acted out through an engineer's perspective--the careful exploration and thoughtful design that the best engineers always exhibit with a new discovery. That is what separates it from every other story that has ever featured a time machine (as excellent as Back to the Future was), and that's the primary sense in which this is a perfect movie.
It's also a perfect movie in some other ways--the dark, grainy cinematography (evidence of the budget than of any preference for such shooting) grants the same "this could really happen" feeling as it does in "Clerks." The acting, too, done again by engineers, is an asset. The score is nerve-wracking piano keying, a great addition if a bit slow.
So here's the downside: I saw this movie once in NY on opening night with a friend who is, like I am, very oriented towards abstract thought. We both got most of what happened, and desired a second viewing to get the rest. But then I saw it with an MIT electrical engineering student in Cambridge, and she didn't get a bit of it. Straight over her head. So I give it five stars to anyone who is willing to do some abstract engineer thinking, but don't bother if you aren't.
on December 23, 2012
Primer has deservedly taken on cult-film status. With a self-taught director that came out of nowhere (well, Texas), Primer is a hand-crafted, low budget film with high production values and stunning results. One of the few science fiction films that not only *bears* repeated viewing but *rewards* those repetitions with new "ah-ha!" moments and further head scratching. The head scratching is not due to any plot holes or lack of tight writing, however; it's merely the result of the mind blowing thought experiment that Carruth brings to life in the film. After you see it a couple times, go research it online, look for diagrams, come back and watch again. Stop reading here and watch now. Fans of brainy sci-fi will thank me.