Primer (2004)


Of course now I feel bad for not paying a single-lick of attention in Science class.

Two scientists/best friends Aaron and Abe (Shane Carruth and David Sullivan) are always in their garage’s playing around and trying to create new machines that will benefit the rest of the world, and make them rich one day. However, when they decide to play around a little too much, somewhere, the realization of a time machine being built to perfection comes through to the both of them; but what should they do? Should they take advantage of it and allow all of their wildest dreams to come true? Or, should they just leave it be for the better good of themselves and mankind? You can probably which decision they choose to make. Damn sci-fi nerds.

I’m going to admit this now, before any of you decide to jump down my neck for the rest of this review: I am an idiot, that much is clear to me now than it has ever been to me in my entire-life. Going into this movie, I expected to be challenged, I expected to be pay attention, I expected to be screwed-with, and I expected to think for myself in ways I haven’t been able to pull-off since Inception (aka, a long, long time ago), but still, I found myself totally and utterly confused, way before it even was half-way through. Once it hits the thirty-minute mark, I thought, “Oh, well now I’m starting to get the hang of things and where this plot is going. Hopefully they keep on going down this route.” If there was ever a more perfect example of wishful thinking, I would really like to see it shown to me. Seriously, this movie fucked me over.

"You bored? Yeah, I know science sucks."
“You bored? Yeah, I know. Science sucks.”

Now, that I got that out of the way, I just want to let you all know that no matter what type of shizz I may be saying about this movie from here on, don’t be fooled into thinking I hated this movie. In fact, I think I respected it more than I even liked it, which is really saying something because that almost never, ever happens. Some may be quick to call this “pretentious” and “pompous”, but I just can’t bring myself to utter those words. I can think of other words like “smart”, “imaginative”, and “detailed”, but that didn’t mean it added anything to my overall movie-watching experience.

Here’s the thing with this movie, the plot absolutely lost me about half-way through, almost to the point of where (I felt like giving up. I seriously did. I had my Wii mote handy and ready to change to see what else I had on my Netflix queue, but thankfully, I stayed true to my movie critic ways and kept on watching. But as much as I may have been totally mind-fucked by all of this, I still have to give writer/director/producer/magic man Shane Carruth all of the credit for stepping from out of nowhere, and giving me a sci-fi film that seemed actually possible. Not saying that any form of sci-fi can actually, and might just happen, but the way this dude presents the way these two guys build a time machine (without ever using that word), how they would take advantage of it, and just what sort of ways would they be able to maneuver themselves around it , was smart and something I did not think could happen with a movie like this. Once again, another instance where I felt like a total idiot since I can’t believe I ever doubted this guy, or his movie.

Also, the guy’s a pretty young director and it shows because the movie looks cheap, it looks gritty, and it looks like it was made from shit you’d sell on Craigslist, but that’s not an insult in the least bit. I actually liked that look to the movie, as it made me feel like I was watching a real story, with real characters, and some real fucked-up crazy shit going on that’s almost too hard for me to even think of as of right now. From an aspiring film maker perspective: the guy has talent and knew how to save money, the right way, in order for him to get this movie made, which seems to be on nickels and dimes. For that aspect alone, I give the guy mucho credit. But this is where the bad part begins. Be ready, because here we go.

The problem that I had with this movie is that I did not seem to get a single, fucking thing going on at all here. I get that these guys created a time machine, tried to find ways to manipulate it’s usage into making them filthy, stinkin’ rich, and eventually started to lose sight of their friendship and the life they once lived, but everything else in between, like a couple of plot twists and turns, just never came to me. I get that the movie isn’t trying to be like all of those lame, predictable sci-fi flicks that spells everything out for you and puts your mind at ease so they can tell you all that’s happening, but seriously; I needed my hand held here. I felt like I needed somebody to hold my hand, walk me through the street, and get me home on time, but instead, I just wanted to know what the fuck was going on.

Now, would I go so far as to say that this movie wasn’t made for me? Yes and no. The reason I say yes is because it’s heavy on it’s sci-fi jargon, in a way that’s almost comprehensible for a person who used to spend third-period Bio wondering what movie he was going to watch later that night. Also, the movie never gave me a second to let everything settle in, breathe, and catch myself up-to-place with all of the happenings and dialogue that seemed to come charging at me, almost a mile-a-minute. I felt totally winded, and that was at the 20-minute mark. I still had less than an hour to go, and I was scared-shitless of what may have happened to me next.

"Don't worry, man. If you fuck up, we just get transported back to when we were babies and have to live our lives all over again with no other knowledge than the ones we gain from childhood on. No pressure at all.
“Don’t worry, man. If you fuck up, we just get transported back to when we were babies and have to live our lives all over again with no other knowledge than the ones we gain from childhood on. No pressure at all.”

However, from the other deck of cards, I’d have to say no for one reason and one reason only: I usually love movies like this. Even though I see a crap-ton of popcorn fare (more than my little, fragile heart may be able handle), I still do appreciate the little, indie movies that allow you to think more than you would with something you could see at any local AMC theater. No matter what that movie may be, I always like to watch them, think for a bit, and come up with my own conclusions at the end. Sometimes they do lose me at points, but I am usually able to get myself back up and moving along with the pace, the story, and the characters that inhabit it.

But this is just one of those movies that made me re-think that idea of myself. It wasn’t that I realized I’m not able to think anymore, and whenever I do, I need somebody to write-out a freakin’ guide book on what everything means. No, in fact it was more that I realized that I have to look out for movies like these and be ready for them, even when I least expect them to come and slash me in the jugular. Did I hate this flick? No, not at all. But there is something that I could tell after viewing it and coming up with my own thoughts: a re-watch is definitely in the future and the re-review for that will definitely be up. As for right now, however, I’m sticking with this and just know that as much as this flick may have not been for me or my mood during the time that I viewed this (I was tired as hell from working-out, ALL. DAMN. DAY.), it still doesn’t mean it’s not worth your own trip to ride-along with, just as long as this cake you don’t mind taking a piece out of. If not, good luck my fellow friends. Good luck, indeed.

Consensus: Primer is a smart, hip-looking, and stylish sci-fi flick that could actually make a lot of sense in the grander scheme of things, but left me in the dark; WAY TOO MUCH. I get that the film wanted to lose it’s audience and see if we could keep up, but as for yours truly, I just wasn’t up the game just yet. Give me another year or so, then I might just be. But until then, I’m staying right where I am.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

OMG!! What's in the box?!?!?
OMG!! What’s in the box?!?!?
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31 comments

  1. I happen to like time travel movies as much as movies about survival. For some reason, this one seems dry. Was it? Sometimes movies that appear to be confusing at first are done that way on purpose so that you have to watch it again. I’d have to be in a real cerebral mood to watch this one and definitely not when I have a cold like I do now, which affects my mood for watching any movie. I’ve watched “The Grey”, but I just can’t seem to want to sit down and write a review due to how I feel. I feel so tired. :/ Oh. Funny you say “shizz” too because I’ve said or written that and people have no clue what I’m saying! Is that a East Coast thing?

  2. I think the director has stated he left out one piece of information, which means you will never be able to solve it. I didn’t understand it all either, but still quite liked it.

  3. Strangely, this is the second time this week I’ve heard from someone who watched Primer for the first time and found it confusing. I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard of the film before. Really odd to hear about a 9-year-old film twice in such rapid succession with the same complaint voiced.

    I haven’t seen the film (like I said, I don’t remember hearing about it before). But I do think there’s a difference between being complex and just being convoluted. If Primer is really confusing people this reliably, it’s convoluted, not complex — and that’s a valid reason for complaint.

  4. I have sat through this film several times, on each occasion I grew more and more frustrated with it as I can’t make any real progress towards being able to follow it. I can’t quite leave it alone either because I get the feeling that I would like the film quite a bit if I could only figure it out!

  5. I have a lot of respect for young directors who save up so much money and then make an Indie film like this. It adds a bit of hope for the rest of us aspiring film-makers.

  6. I rewatched this about a month ago, and I really enjoy this movie. I agree that I still got lost. Wikipedia has a nice diagram someone made to show how the time travel works that helps a bit, but the thing this movie does well is has a sense of dread underneath it and really keeps you thinking about it after it is done, which is for me is a plus. He’s got a new movie coming out that I’m interested to see called ‘Upstream Color’

    Good review man!

    • That’s why I put the review up and decided to watch it last week. It’s a hard movie to understand but maybe after the 3rd watch or so, I’ll get it all.

  7. Good review. I’ll start my saying that I’m surprised anyone who doesn’t at least have an engineer near and dear can make it through the first 20 minutes; it’s all jargon. It’s smartly written but alienates some viewers right off.
    But, if you stick with it, you’re in for a treat.
    I love it because it is an intelligently thought-out “realistic” time travel film, dealing with these two young Einsteins trying to navigate their way through unprecedented paradoxes. It’s a great line where the two guys are talking over the fuel pump, and the one says, “What’s worse, thinking you’re being paranoid, or knowing you should be?”
    Further, it gives an interesting twist on the genre, effectively equating time travel to cloning . I personally would’ve loved to have seen Christopher Nolan’s take on the idea, and we just might see that soon with his “Interstellar” film!
    Incidentally, I ranked Primer #9 on my top 10 sci-fi films. 🙂 http://grandefalcone.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/best-science-fiction-films/

  8. This movie is an insanely confusing movie because understanding the method of time travel and how it works is essential to understanding the plot. Great and honest review. It’s a great movie hindered by confusing plot points.

  9. I had seen this mentioned on Reddit along with Timecrimes as two of the best Time Travel films of the last ten years. While I thought this was the better of the two films. I had the same reaction you did in that I got lost in the plot about half way through. I was trying in vain to explain the plot to my brother the other day. I am going to have to give this one another watch after a few cups of coffee and try to really sort things out before I can form an opinion.

    nice write up Dan?

  10. I appreciate the very conscious decisions this young filmmaker made with his first feature film. I like the way the film looks, I like how it was capable of making me feel (disoriented, lost, alienated, dumb, confused) and I really appreciate the capacity of the director to work with scraps (7,000$ if I’m not mistaken) to make a film that is more thoughtful and artistic than a lot of the crap that is waiting for us at the theater every damn week.
    For audiences’ sake, I would have liked for it to make a little more sense, if only to take away something in regards to the plot and what is actually taking place in front of my eyes. I would have also liked the scientific jargon to be toned down a bit simply because it’s bound to confuse the majority of us. Sure, it is a very personal work, but if your purpose is to get your films to be experienced by more than a close group of friends, your views and your plot should be just a bit more approachable.
    Great review Dan!

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