Today I watched Shane Carruth’s Primer (2004)
Taking a step back from the fun adventures in time travel, Primer aims to show a much more realistic portrayal of such a technological wonder. The story concerns entrepreneurial engineers named Abe and Aaron who accidentally discover a time machine. This machine is actually a very realistic portrayal of the classic trope, only able to transport a person back to when the machine was first turned on. The application of this might seem limited but things get confusing fast. At first Aaron and Abe just use the machine to trade stocks with future knowledge but soon their identities as cliched imagination deficient engineers leads to problems with the whole ethics thing. The film raises a number of plot threads, such as possible brain damage from using the machine and the possible existence of another time traveler, but they seem to get dropped as quickly as they were brought up. The issue that does stick around was a party in which an ex-boyfriend of some other minor character brings a shotgun to a party and threatens her.
All the abandoned plot threads do actually lead into something, the relationship between Abe and Aaron, more specifically how they diverge due to ethics, as does the shotgun episode, and that really is the crux of the movie. It’s a shame then that they are such non-characters, enforcing the stereotype that engineers are the most boring people in the world. Their ethical dilemmas seem to arise because neither of them has ever read a sci-fi story in their lives and they cannot relate to anything that is not the immediate reality. I cannot relate to their dilemmas at all because I cannot relate to the people and their complete lack of imagination. What is left then in the film is a really confusing time travel puzzle which simply doesn’t interest me.
To be fair to Primer, it is incredibly well shot. This is a gorgeous film and it was shot for only seven thousand dollars, an absurdly small amount in the context of film. The independent spirit here is really worth commending and that the plot is so high concept equally so. For me though, the experience of watching it is just a painful bore. There is something to be said for this approach to sci-fi realism but I think it just highlights the importance of identifiable characters who I can actually tell from one another. 2/5