In addition to their day jobs, four super-smart engineers sell home-made electronic goods in order to fund experimental projects which they hope to patent for major money. Deciding to do their own thing, friends Aaron (Carruth) and Abe (Sullivan) concentrate on a device which ends up creating a time-loop as an unexpected side-effect. Realising that they can use this to travel back in recent time, Aaron and Abe set about using the machine for personal gain, but with all the associated problems (such as creating alternate versions of themselves) things get messy very quickly…
While most time travel movies are usually mind-bending by their very nature, it’s no exaggeration to say that Primer is as complicated as they come. Existing at the opposite end of the scale to the fun and easily-understandable timey-wimey antics of Back To The Future, it’s the sort of film which even smart viewers paying full attention won’t understand the first time round. Or even the second. Or possibly even the third. Once it’s over, your average viewer will be left completely and utterly baffled, while obsessive film fans will no doubt be compelled to dive online in search of simplified explanations and accompanying time charts.
On one hand, it’s admirable how Carruth doesn’t make easy concessions for the viewer. But on the other, the result is so frequently incomprehensible that those with mainstream tastes will just see 78 increasingly-confusing minutes of geeky techno-talk. Making things worse, the plot isn’t always linear (is that Abe, or is it Abe Two?), many crucial events are just alluded to instead of actually being shown, and the dialogue is often impenetrable. Essentially, it’s like listening to two people who’re much smarter than you discussing something that you don’t know much about. A few Doc Brown-type explanations would have been most welcome.
All that being true though, for those who get it (or, more accurately, for those who eventually get it), Primer will offer an uniquely intelligent and unusually ‘realistic’ time travel film. Shot for only $7000, it’s undoubtedly an impressive indie debut, especially when you consider that first-time filmmaker Shane Carruth simultaneously acted as co-star, director, producer, writer, editor, composer and cinematographer.
While most time travel movies are usually mind-bending by their very nature, it’s no exaggeration to say that Primer is as complicated as they come.