With an excellent premise, solid acting, and intriguing storyline it’s no surprise independent filmmaker Shane Carruth’s debut film, Primer
, won accolades at the 2004 Sundance
Film Festival. Without wanting to give away the entire storyline, I’ll simply say this film puts an entirely new face on one of Sci-Fi’s most overused plot devices. It’s a good representation of much of what I love about independent films, and definitely worth seeing – but it's far from perfect.
Purportedly filmed for the cost of a used automobile, its low-budget forced its focus onto its dialogue and its storyline. Both were excellent – yet lacking. As I’m sure was the director’s intent, the dialogue was performed without any theatrical affectations, which effectively casts the characters as being more or less ordinary people who are living out their ‘real’ lives. While this effect was well done, it was probably overdone. The movie itself sets a somber tone, and since much of the dialogue was so dry, I found myself occasionally wishing for a break in the mood. A few more moments of levity might have been appropriate – especially in endearing us to the main characters, who I felt we never got to know well enough.
Also, Carruth never condescends to his audience with contrived explanations of the pseudo-scientific plotline. Instead the audience is left to figure things out as events unfold. Again this is a plus, but the storyline does get extraordinarily complex (to quote a friend, “recursion can be a bitch”), so much so that I couldn’t help but wonder if some key scenes had ended up on the cutting room floor. It was strange because at the end of the movie I thought to myself, ‘Wow. I think
I liked it. . . but I’m not sure I really get it.’
In researching this film I later learned virtually nothing was edited out. The low budget meant only the minimums of scene footage could be shot. Of the 80 minutes of recorded scene footage, the edited film is a full 78 minutes long. Carruth had been forced to reduce his creation to its bare essentials from the get go. Once I understood this, it became easier to forgive the film its faults.
And after rewatching Primer, I found I was finally able to follow most of the finer points of the plotline too. While there are still a few elements I puzzle over, I’ve come to understand these last few ambiguities as intentional. As always, we know the story from the character's perspectives, and there are things they cannot know for certain themselves. I’ve created a few pet theories as to what actually happened, but there simply isn’t enough information in the film for me to know if I’m right or not.
I imagine anyone who actually reads this review is likely feel more confused than informed at this point. Get used to it. If you can stomach a short movie without glamour, bar-brawls, car chases, and steamy sex scenes - a movie that’s likely to confuse and frustrate you -- but at least make you think -- then do yourself a favor and check out Primer
. And, as always, feel free to e-mail me or leave comments with your own questions or interpretations. Ultimately that’s the point of any good Science-Fiction, and what makes good SF worthwhile.