Primer won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival which sealed its fate as a much watch movie. Movies shot on 16mm film for seven thousand don’t normally attract much attention or result in a major DVD release.
Primer is a solid hard science, science fiction story that is remarkably well shot and directed. The acting is solid and believable though the characters are two dimensional but that is in part a necessity to tell a story which is about an idea rather than about people. The story tries to be about people which is where it gets a little messy and on the science front it leaves too many dangling threads. The story is slow and deliberately paced but that helps the story along in this case. It allows the viewer time to interpret the information they are being provided with.
If you have seen Run Lola Run and Memento then you will understand part of the premise of Primer. Unlike Memento where the character is dealing with amnesia in Primer we are dealing with temporal bilocation. Mercifully the movie is shot from an engineer’s standpoint which removes from the story the usual compulsory explanation of time travel paradox and the same mass occupying two different places simultaneously. There are no exposition sequences on quantum entanglement – these men are engineers all they care about is that their machine works.
This is a wonderful movie to watch but it is also an annoying movie to watch which makes it hit or miss depending on what you expect from a movie. This movie seems to expect you to ask questions for which it will provide no answers. There are story elements which are put right in front of the viewer but never developed or explained or treated in the telling of the story. Early in the movie we see that the machine around which the whole story revolves reduces the mass of objects placed inside it. You don’t even have to have done physics in high school to understand how this can benefit humanity yet we never hear about this again. The movie has a number of these dangling story threads which just trail off to no where. At the same time a generous viewer can see how these incidentals are just part of the intense focus of the main characters who lose site of everything else in their field of vision in pursuit of their goals.
Shane Carruth is definitely a writer/director to keep an eye on in the future he has talent and who knows what he will be capable of once he has a budget for continuity. If you enjoyed Memento and you like time paradox problems then you will enjoy this movie. If you are more of a Run Lola Run fan then give Primer a pass.