Primer - The Movie

Benjy Cline Still from the movie

Limited Spoilers

I typically don't write movie reviews, especially several years after the movie comes out, but I enjoyed Primer so much that I wanted to encourage others to watch it. The movie is now available on DVD.

Primer is the first movie by writer/director/actor Shane Carruth. It was produced in the early '00's for $7,000 and won two Sundance Film Festival awards, the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and the Grand Jury Prize, in 2004. Roger Ebert gave Primer 4 1/2 stars. Ebert stated that, "The movie never looks cheap, because every shot looks as it must look," in reference to the $7,000 budget.

The movie is about two engineers who have a side business with two colleagues. The two engineers, Abe and Aaron, strike out on their own and attempt to build a machine to reduce gravity or mass and wind up with a time machine. The machine is not your typical fiction time machine. It works on a set of principles that seems similar to the restrictions we see in real areas of physics. And the movie doesn't sugar coat the jargon or dumb down the ideas. These guys talk about Feynman diagrams and Type-I semiconductors with no explanation.

The movie is about trust and deals with innovation, but it's also a heavy weight science fiction tale about time travel. Many movies labeled as science fiction are really action movies with a shallow backdrop of science fiction scenes. Primer, on the other hand, is a thoughtful, intellectual story told perfectly on a very low budget.

Most viewers will be confused after watching the movie the first time. I was reminded of the movie Memento. I watched it in a theatre and was doing heavy brain processing during the whole movie. That worked for Memento, but I wasn't able to figure out all of Primer in one viewing. The good news is that the movie does play fairly with its own rules and that there are nice clues along the way.

After viewing the movie the first time, I looked for timelines and discussions on the web. Then I watched the movie with the director's commentary which provided interesting information about how the movie was produced and some limited insights. I pondered the movie for a week and then watched it again. It was a satisfying experience the second time around.

Carruth says that "all the information is in there" to figure out the nuts and bolts of what happens in the movie, but there are some differing opinions about what really occurs.. If you want a mild spoiler about how to interpret the movie, see my comment page. That helped me clear up my view of the movie.

Primer is not for everyone, but for those that are willing to ponder the movie, the reward is great!


Copyright © 2009 Ben E. Cline except the photo at the top of the page which is from the Primer official movie site.