Movie Review: Primer

This 2004 movie came to my attention through an email from Chelsea:

Okay, if you rent the movie “Primer” and can tell me exactly what happens in the last 10 minutes, you are a Sci Fi God. Haha.. but really.. you should Netflix it. I think you’d enjoy trying to figure it out.

Ah, a challenge. Science Fiction, love it. So I got the movie and watched it. Here goes:

Per Roger Ebert: Carruth wrote, directed and edited the movie, composed the score, and starred in it. The budget was reportedly around $7,000, but that was enough: The movie never looks cheap, because every shot looks as it must look. In a New York Times interview, Carruth said he filmed largely in his own garage, and at times he was no more sure what he was creating than his characters were. Primer won the award for best drama at Sundance 2004.

Two propeller-heads, Aaron and Abe, invent a device in Aaron’s garage, apparently after their regular jobs. They wear white shirts and ties through the entire movie. I wondered why they wouldn’t change into jeans and T-shirts for their moonlighting. The dialog is difficult to understand, since most of it is mumbled, sort of like engineers would talk to each other while working in their garage. The topics are highly scientific and engineering laden, and we understand very little, if anything at all. The device they come up with, cobbled together from copper tubing, sheet metal and circuit boards, ends up being a sort of a time machine. They don’t understand what they got, but before long they find themselves performing human experiments by subjecting themselves to the machine, while they really don’t know how it works, what exactly it does and what the dangers might be.

Things quickly get out of hand and the experiment runs away from them. They try to recover, but as in most if not all time travel stories, paradoxes create impossible situations, and we,  the viewers, have an impossible time following along, keeping all the threads of reality in line and tied together.

I must warn you: this is a complicated movie to watch. It’s very difficult to make sense of and follow, and I do not claim I have figured it all out. It was slow and boring, and the music got in the way. But I stuck with it just to give Chelsea her answer and earn my title as Sci Fi God. So here is the answer:

When you travel into the past, as the two guys do, if just by a few hours, you can go and hide behind a bush or a car, and see yourself walk into the building where the time machine is before you went into the time machine. So there is one of you going in, and one of you watching yourself going in. If the one that traveled into the past does not go back to the present (or his future), there are now two copies of the same person walking around, albeit separated in age by a few hours. One can go home to the wife, or the other. What happens if both do?

Both of these guys started messing with the machine on their own, without telling the other, so things quickly became confusing. Which was which? How many are there? Two? Three? More? Once it gets confused, there is no way to clear it up again. That’s what was going on in the last 10 minutes of the movie.  Utter confusion of reality.

An okay movie, but by far not the best time travel story I have read or seen.

Rating: **

One thought on “Movie Review: Primer

  1. Chelsea Haupt

    Nice. Yeah, I didn’t think it was the greatest movie but definitely different so I enjoyed it. Half the time I had no idea what they were talking about either. Check out this (long) explanation:

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