Primer (2004)

5

Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about the science fiction genre is just how wide-ranging it can be. A lot of people always think of shiny spaceships and transporter pads and huge space battles but it can also be strongly grounded in a potential reality. It can use some interesting and yet-unreached scientific goals to posit basic questions about human behaviour and the moral stance needed (sometimes) to bravely break through the limits of known science.

Primer is exactly such a movie. It’s a film made on a tiny budget with interesting scientific ideas and muddied ethical waters instead of sleek space travel and grandiose alien landscapes. Yet it’s every bit as deserving as any other film ranked by genre fans as great sci-fi, arguably even more so with the way it develops the plot so believably and leads to an unsettling and mind-muddling conclusion.

This is not a movie to stick in your DVD player for a quick sci-fi fix, oh no. This is a film to watch, to listen to and to enjoy while also keeping your attention fixed on every little detail for every moment of the rather brief runtime. It’s a film that doesn’t patronise the audience and rewards those who give it full attention.

Abe (David Sullivan) and Aaron (Shane Carruth, who also wrote and directed the thing and did many other duties too) are two young men working dayjobs and trying to conduct scientific experiments that could lead to fame and fortune in their free time. They make up half of a quartet of like-minded young men but the group soon heads in two directions with Abe and Aaron focusing on their attempt to affect mass by blocking gravitational pull while the other two guys do . . . . . . . whatever it is they’re trying to do. As the experiment continues, Abe and Aaron soon discover that they have managed to create a device which does more than just block gravitational pull. It seems that they may have inadvertently created a time machine. If that’s possible, they have to consider the consequences and find out just what can be done with it.

Starting off in a way that’s so low-key it could almost send viewers to sleep, Primer is a science fiction film that really doesn’t feel all that fictional, despite the central idea that comes to the fore. The movie is, for the most part, a two-hander between Sullivan and Carruth and both men acquit themselves well, they’re natural and believably handle the jargon as if it’s something they’ve known for many years. Emotions do boil up from the depths but these two men try most of the time to keep a cool, analytical eye on things as opposed to getting themselves in a flap while exploring unique possibilities.

The film gets decidedly more intricate as things lead up to a quite superb conclusion and Carruth also shows perfect judgment in the writer and director roles. Viewers can go along with the events shown and enjoy a solid, if slightly puzzling, movie but they can also start to turn things over in their mind as the credits start to roll and unravel the multitude of threads that have been woven, almost unnoticed, from the very beginning to the very end. It’s very smart, very well done and very satisfying.

WRITER/DIRECTOR: SHANE CARRUTH
STARS: SHANE CARRUTH, DAVID SULLIVAN, CASEY GOODEN, ANAND UPADHYAYA, CARRIE CRAWFORD
RUNTIME: 77 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

5 Comments
  1. Tue Sorensen says

    Darn straight! 🙂

  2. Chris Knipp says

    It’s an extremely puzzling film that I went to see twice (which I don’t do often) and very unusual. Some seem to despise it but I found it fascinating. If I may quote myself from 2004, “You know how Blair Witch Project and Night of the Living Dead are scarier and more real because they aren’t studio projects? Primer works the same way. It’s made so close to the bone it seems like it almost could be real. It makes you realize that expensive special effects impress, but do not convince; that ultimately the best science fiction is about ideas, not gadgetry.
    http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=373

  3. Kevin Matthews says

    Great write up there, Chris. I was talking to someone about Primer today and how it’s just rated a “12” here in the UK despite having moments that I certainly feel are very dark. I love it though even while I’m scratching my head as things get more complex.

  4. Tue Sorensen says

    You’re *supposed* to scratch your head…! That they lose track of the confused temporal detours is part of the point of the movie… 🙂

  5. Kevin Matthews says

    Oh, that’s why I still enjoy it. I don’t think everyone understands that though and some people always want things simpler 🙂

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