Cast: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey
Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, Casey Gordon
NASA engineers once spent millions of dollars and countless man-hours
trying to figure out how they could get an ink pen to write in space.
How did the Soviets, America’s Cold War enemy, solve the same
problem? They used a pencil. So goes the exchange between Abe (Sullivan)
and Aaron (Carruth), the two main characters in
the indie release Primer. This dialogue gives credence
and makes somewhat believable what could otherwise be considered
a ludicrous notion for a low-budget yet serious-minded film—that
one can build a time machine out in the attached garage of your
three-bedroom home. We’ve come to see this kind of stuff with
big budget Hollywood films like Back To The Future, but
what makes Primer somewhat unique is how it aims for plausibility,
all on a mere shooting budget of $7000!
It’s a grandiose vision for a small-time project that not
only can’t afford razzle-dazzle special effects, but would,
I suspect, eschew them even if the option were available. That’s
a noble aim for Primer’s director/lead actor/producer
Shane Carruth. And to his credit, he ably holds his own with a low-key
approach to what Hollywood normally does with big budget bells and
whistles. Keeping it simple, Carruth’s Primer is
about the ultimate start-up fantasy: Guys with day jobs in the high-tech
industry dream of inventing something that will make them millions
and free from the nine-to-five rat race. So when their shifts end
at the anonymous suburban office park, they roll up their sleeves
and loosen their ties and put in another eight hours of work in
Abe’s garage. They use hosing lines and tubing from the refrigerator
and pull the batteries out of their cars to get the spare parts
they need for their contraption. Here Carruth’s dialogue is
real and the acting is marginally convincing—we get the sense
this happens all the time amongst young entrepreneurs. Keeping us
hanging on more, the original aim of this project is never revealed
to the audience. What exactly these men intended to build, we never
know. So it becomes an intriguing step-up to watch Abe and Aaron
puzzle over what exactly their machine is doing and watch their
amazement grow as they grapple with the potential of their new invention.
This is all well and good, but then Primer goes terribly
I suspect Carruth’s ultimate goal was to make a film that
could be a thinking person’s science fiction competitor with
the likes of The Sixth Sense or Soylent Green—one
of those mind-fuck movies that twists things around and makes one
say “ah-ha” when the credits are rolling. Ah-ha so,
that guy is actually dead and Soylent Green is people. I get it.
But Primer can’t join that crowd because the directorial
vision is so obtuse and convoluted, the “ah-ha” moment
never happens. Frankly I’d like to spoil the plot for you
and tell you what exactly the “ah-ha” moment is, but
I don’t quite get it all myself. I understand a little, but
only because the Q&A scheduled after the film was not so much
a Q&A as it was an opportunity for the speaker to explain to
the bewildered audience what exactly was going on in the last 40
minutes of the film. I’ve seen a lot of films with Q&As
that follow, but this is the first time I’ve ever been to
a film where the audience had to take a moment to ask questions
about the basic plot of an 83-minute film. Now, I will say, it is
true that I’m more of a “liberal arts” kind of
a person than a technical science-oriented type, but in fairness
I watched the film with an M.I.T. graduate and he was scratching
his head too. How the consequences of this nifty invention become
unraveled is just too much to wrap one’s head around.
There’s a lot of promise here, but ultimately Primer
reveals itself as a freshman effort. If one enjoys watching a movie
as one would enjoy unscrambling a Rubik’s Cube, this may well
be an option worth exercising. Otherwise the complexities of this
film may be best left alone.
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
Itís worth a full-price ticket.
Itís worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...