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 Odyssey, Primer 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.