Primer

PrimerSynopsis: What happens if it actually works?

Everything you think you know about modern science is about to unravel.

While conducting experiments in a garage, two brilliant engineers who lead double lives accidentally discover that their project enables them to travel back in time. Each man’s curiosity leads to experiments without the other’s knowledge, some with serious consequences. In an “ingenious blend of sci-fi and mystery” (Steven Read, “Philadelphia Inquirer”), viewers are challenged to solve the puzzle that is PRIMER.

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Primer 8.0

eyelights: its cryptic quality.
eyesores: its cryptic quality.

“My voice is the only proof that you will have of the truth of any of this.”

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you had the chance to travel through time? Would you see the future, or the past? Would you alter events? And for whose benefit? What impact would that have on you and your reality? And what would be the ethical implications of all this?

‘Primer’ is a 2004 science fiction drama that recounts how two young scientists have to contend with all the temptations and ramifications of stumbling upon a way to travel time. It’s an extremely low budget film written, directed, produced and starring Shane Carruth, a former engineer.

Wow… what does one say about this picture…?

For starters, aside for its low budget (it was reportedly made on only seven grand!), which explains the shift in visual quality from one scene to the next, and the casting, what’s most important to note is that it’s a very cerebral science-fiction film; it’s not a conventional thriller or action picture.

It’s very much the reverse of those movies that spoon-feed you: Carruth, who has a degree in mathematics and studied physics for this project, purposely wrote it in technical terms, with naturalistic dialogues full of personal shortcuts, and eschewing contrived compensatory exposition.

Basically, one is watching a couple of young scientists speak geek to each other, and the picture doesn’t let you in on the details easily. So it’s incumbent on the audience to remain alert, lest they get left behind. Even then, most (including myself, admittedly) will get the gist of it but not the specifics.

In fact, I had to read the Wiki page to truly understand what was going on. Thankfully, someone broke it down for us on there, including even a diagram to explain how the time travel worked. Until then, I was a bit confused about even that part of the plot. Not that it deterred from my enjoyment.

You see, I like a good brain teaser. And while I don’t have the knowledge to truly grasp the science behind it, and thus have no way to discern whether or not it made any sense, it felt credible to me; at no point were the alarm bells of my critical self ringing. So, in my mind, it was merely a good work out.

Now, if that doesn’t deter many potential viewers, there’s also the no small matter of the fact that the meat of ‘Primer’ is all in the character dynamics and the ethical questions that their discovery and subsequent actions pose. That’s not exactly conducive to drawing large crowds; people want action.

The Terminator‘, this ain’t.

But the picture still managed to make a fair bit of loose change: considering that it cost 7K to make, was distributed by a minor company (ThinkFilm), and only played in 31 cinemas, its take of nearly half a million dollars is rather impressive. It’s also done well on DVD and is now considered a minor cult classic.

Not bad for a picture rooted in cryptic science.

‘Primer’ is so dense that, even though it’s only 78 minutes long, it feels so much longer. Rarely have I felt this challenged by a motion picture. But it’s a challenge I relish taking every time; it gives as good as it gets. By the end, you feel intellectually stimulated in a way motion pictures rarely do.

‘Primer’ is brain food and it’s satisfying. And that alone is reason enough to watch it, even if it leaves you with more questions than answers and may require more viewings than your average film to fully comprehend. Any motion picture that can wake us from our torpor deserves to be seen.

And lauded.

Date of viewing: December 7, 2015

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