Stars: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan
Genre: Science Fiction, Drama
Primer is a time-travel film made on a budget of about $7,000. Often noted for its complex technical dialogue and believable approach to time-travel.
The plot follows two guys who look like they're fresh out of college with their white button-ups and striped ties. They build things in their garage and invent things! But, one day, they accidentally discover time travel. Things get complicated when they begin messing with the nature of time, with doubles of themselves walking around and things go awry.
For a film with a skeleton crew and such a small budget it must be applauded for its execution of a concept that usually takes millions to make. Shane Carruth serves as director, producer, writer, composer, editor, and even has a leading role in the film. He gives Robert Rodriquez a run for his money. The film does look amateurish at some points, with inconsistent art direction and such, but overall they did a solid job of masking the film's low budget and made it look more expensive than it was.
The acting is...how can I describe it? It wasn't anything amazing, in fact at points I'd call it mediocre, but it still felt very real to me. The characters felt believable, the friendship between the two main characters even reminded me of a relationship with one of my own friends. And perhaps that what Primer is most praised for: its realism, not only in characters but in essentially all facets.
Primer shouldn't be praised for its realistic portrayal of time-travel. How can it be? Time-travel hasn't been discovered yet. But it does do a good job of making it believable, plausible, and, shall we say, pseudo-realistic. Like many great inventions in history, time-travel was accidentally discovered in Primer. It took time to learn it and it wasn't just some magical time machine; it showed the inventors' progress. It also presented believable consequences, actions, reactions, etc.
The pseudo-realism is all enforced by a few things. First is the complex, technical, and sometimes cryptic jargon. Anyone short of science expert won't understand everything they're saying in the film. It's one of those things where a film makes things incomprehensible in order to provide the guise that it makes sense but you just don't understand it. I can't comment on whether or not it's more rewarding to watch if you can actually understand all the vocabulary. Maybe if you understand it all you will sooner realize how much of it is bullshit. I don't know. All I know is they make it believable to the average watcher.
The plot is also very complex. Well, no, complex isn't the right word. Maybe it is. I just feel that it's a fairly simple story but made very convoluted and cryptic so it's harder to understand. Another instance of "it makes sense, you just don't understand it." The plot is confusing, especially at first viewing. I've watched it three times and I still don't fully understand it, but I comprehend most of, because, like I said, it's not really too complex it's just confusing. It seems like there's a lot of arbitrary stuff added to the film that really serves no purpose at all. Maybe I'm mistaken and parts that seem pointless to me actually are important, but I don't know, it doesn't seem like it. Maybe the arbitrary scenes and discussions were added to improve on realism? In order to show that these are just average guys we're watching who live lives similar to ours? Some of it just seemed unnecessary, and makes me suspect it's just filler included to lengthen the still short film to a respectable running time.
Maybe the plot is made so convoluted in order for the viewer to feel just as confused as the characters? The characters seem to know what was going on better than I did though. Even just reading the Primer Wikipedia page made my head spin. There's even this chart to help explain it. Many of twist's and turns in the plot just didn't feel satisfying.
Even the film's amateur filmmaking style makes it feel more realistic. Similar to the way found-footage films make things more realistic. There were some really good scenes and a few parts even really genuinely creeped me out. [Spoiler:] The binocular scene where Aaron is standing next to Abe and through the binoculars he sees another Abe was not only a great concept but was flawlessly executed.
Primer is not a bad film. It's impressive, especially on the budget, and is probably the most plausible time-travel films we have seen hitherto. And though I actually liked it a bit less on repeated viewings, it's a film you'll definitely want, and almost need, to watch more than once. Definitely recommended for time-travel fanatics and people into the very technical side of science-fiction.
Purchase Primer on Amazon: DVD - Stream