Posted by: ckckred | July 18, 2013



Shane Carruth’s Primer is a compelling and intriguing sci-fi film, one that approaches the genre like few movies before.  Much like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space OdysseyPrimer is a realistic look at the genre, giving a perspective of what time travel would look like.  While it isn’t in the same league as Kubrick’s masterpiece or other movies of the category, it is widely enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining.

The plot of Primer, composed of mostly dialogue-heavy scenes, is rather confusing and complex.  Aaron (Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) are two technicians who, along with two other engineers, develop a machine.  What does the machine do?  I never was quite entirely sure.  However, one unintended side effect of the machine is made clear: it allows its contents to travel through time.

The mechanics of the time machine are quite confusing, but it basically boils down to this.  The machine can loop what’s inside it into the future, then later take it back to the present.  Thrilled by this prospect, Aaron and Abe explore this venture themselves and build a time machine big enough to fit a person.  They rent out a storage spot and take a few oxygen tanks to test out their device.  When they first use the time machine, they rent out a hotel room to avoid contact with their existing doubles, discover what’s happening currently (such as stock prices), then go back into the past.

Throughout its hour and a half running time, Primer introduces a series of paradoxes and loopholes and I didn’t understand what exactly happened at the end of the film.  But not a second of Primer was I bored.  Existing on a mealy $7,000 budget, Primer is much better than a majority of Hollywood blockbusters, perhaps of its more restrained approach.  Primer doesn’t try to pump up its visuals but rely on premise and realism.

That isn’t to say Primer is flawless.  Primer has plenty of problems, as I felt some of the characters were undefined and some scenes were amateurishly shot.  But Primer manages to entertain and delight viewers, making it an ambitious, if somewhat troubled, experiment.  And for that, I thought the movie is a success.



  1. This is a pretty good summary and review of the film. I actually felt that the first half hour or so – as they tinker around with the science of the time travel – was the most engaging part of the film. I appreciate Carruth’s effort in putting together such a detailed narrative in the back half, but felt a little adrift without a solid emotional core to cling to. Still – $7,000, jesus! Very, very impressive achievement.

    Have you seen Upstream Color yet?

    • (Hmm, “pretty good” sounds like damning with faint praise. Not the intention! Pretend I said “awesome” or similar instead) 🙂

    • Thanks! Yeah, the lack of an emotional core hurt the film, but I really admired the complex story Carruth put together. I hope to see Upstream Color this weekend.

  2. Yeah, this is really a mindfuck movie and one that’s impossible to figure out I think. Like you say it is very engaging though.

    • Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I can’t wrap my head around the movie but found it very entertaining.

  3. Your review of Primer has convinced me. You should watch Upstream Color ASAP. You will thank me. 🙂

    • I’m going to see Upstream Color this weekend. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. Fine review, man. I was actually going to watch this myself last night but decided on something else. I will get around to it, though.

    • Thanks! I think you’ll enjoy it, it’s a small, fun sci-fi movie.

  5. I’m still confused by this movie, but I’m not going to argue that it doesn’t make sense. It probably does, I just will have to watch it about 100 more times to finally understand how and why. Good review.

    • Thanks! Yeah, I didn’t really understand the ending completely as well. It makes me want to see the entire film again to plot out all the points.

  6. I really enjoyed his latest film Upstream Color so I’ll have to check out Primer as well.

    • Thanks for the comment. I still have to check Upstream Color, but I think you’ll like this.

  7. Great write-up. I love this film. I wrote about it for Fogs a while back but he wasn’t quite as impressed as me – so glad that you share my love! But I still haven’t seen Upstream Color… need to get on to that.

    • Thanks! I read your recommendation for Fogs’ the other day, which is what convinced me to see it. I really enjoyed it, though the ending is very confusing.

  8. Excellent write-up. If you fancy a read, this is my review

    • Thanks! I’ll check it out right now.

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