“Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m gonna to read this, and you’re gonna listen, and you’re gonna stay on the line, and you’re not going to interrupt and you’re not going to speak for any reason. Some of this you know. I’m gonna start at the top of the page.”
Those are the first spoken words in Primer. Right away we know, this is serious.
The story begins with a group of four engineers who work at an industrial park. In their off hours the group tries to invent something bankable. Two of the group accidentally discovers a means of time travel. They use the machine to go back in time and play the stock market. Ultimately, they use the machine for other purposes, each doing things unknown to the other, while at the same time going back and trying to undue the paradoxes their travels have brought about (hence the title; like putting a coat of primer over a bad paint job).
When you think of time travel movies, you probably think of Back to the Future. That movie has less in common with Primer than The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) has with Citizen Kane (1941). Give me a few minutes, I’m sure I can think of something The Muppets has in common with Citizen Kane. Both overrated?
My wife was watching this with me, and after a while said “I don’t know what they’re talking about but it’s interesting.” Here is an amazing thing: you really don’t know what they’re talking about. Director, writer, composer, and lead actor Shane Carruth is a former engineer and mathematician. He purposely used scientific jargon without explaining it. And since the characters end up in over their heads, the audience feels somewhat like they feel. We know something important is happening, we sense the characters are losing control of the situation, we want to understand, we want the situation to get better. We are truly in the shoes of the main characters.
The film was made for 7,000 dollars. Most of that was spent on the film stock. I don’t see how a bigger budget would have made a better film. More special effects? Not needed. Famous name actors? Would be distracting. Better sets? Again, not needed. Everything feels real because basically it’s filmed in a world we’re surrounded by daily.
Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to see Primer. You’re not gonna pause it and try to figure it out. Your gonna shut off your cell phone. You’re not gonna interrupt the flow of the movie. You’re not gonna understand it.
But you’re gonna love it.
(this movie is rated pg-13. when you start the DVD, the blue screen appears telling you it is rated R. That is a mistake. If you order from Netflix, the envelope explains that the R-rating is not correct.)