Primer (2004) – The Complexity of Time Travel

“Primer” is probably the most quite complex time travel movie ever existed. It’s not an exaggeration to come with such a thing. With just an extremely low budget, this film only requires touch and improve the mindf*ck level. It’s one of the complex time travel movies. There are so many. I mean so many movies that try to become an “A” movies. Actually, they fail and impress like such a gimmick which cannot be compared with one of these films. Apart from a low budget, the movie never looks cheap.

There are several types of high mindf*ck films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” or every David Lynch movie. You can say at least as “Donnie Darko” which share the same concept. What I like about them is that we don’t need to be fixated on the story. We as the audience try to interpret it as much as possible. The difference is in this case, “Primer” is not one of them. Regardless of which, this movie is a concept form of time travel. It’s not a kind of open to interpretation movies which this movie runs linearly. Shane Carruth brings us to a time travel concept. He contains scientific dialogue about physics, chemistry, and biology.

The movie opens with four people talking about things such as the stock market and investment. They talk about the next project, geeky or nerdy things. At first, I didn’t know who they were, who this was, where we were, when, and why. They’re trying to work on a scientific project. They are Shane Carruth as Aaron, David Sullivan as Abe, Casey Gooden as Robert, and Anand Upadhyaya as Phillip. They are trying to create a new invention by conducting various experiments in Aaron’s garage.

After a lot of failures, finally, Aaron and Abe found the biggest fact in their discovery. They had found a time machine. The objects they put in the machine were removed. There was a protein in the amount that should have just formed within a few years. They use the machine in various ways, one of which is to predict the stock market at a large price. However, their obsession gradually emerged so that what they did had a big impact on themselves and their surroundings.

The way the time machine work is quite reminiscent to “Steins;Gate” about their first experiment using bananas. The various dialogues contained in this film aren’t so important. The dialogues just act as detailed descriptions so that they are memorable in the style of physics and mathematics. To understand the plot, Shane Carruth tries to minimize these dialogues in a solid form. So, the audience cramps their minds until the second view that would be a different experience than the first view. I watched this movie three times so I can understand the whole point of the movie.

If you just watched once and not to look closely the small details, you will find it boring and complicated. Films like this are very different than watching “Memento” for decades to be able to understand the whole plot. This is nothing new like time travel. But, this is where the former engineer is able to incorporate such elements. He can talk about physics, mathematics, and chemistry. He also talks about philosophy. The combination of dialogue and complicated stories is a challenge for the audience itself.

“Primer” is indeed a viewing experience that’s so different. It’s not a kind of open to interpretation movie or related. This is what makes me forget about this film a little. Regardless of if you watch it again three times, personally, then you will get a very brilliant twist. This movie is so complex which time continuities. But, I don’t find it that memorable or remarkable for me. After that, there is nothing more to say besides being able to understand this film as a whole.

Unlike any interpretation movie we still talking about, the film is still fresh to be discussed at the present time. In addition to how this film has its own challenges, especially if you love solving a puzzle, films like this are also similar to “Mr. Nobody” and “Moon.” Both movies override fiction rather than science and this is what I like so much about this film. There are not much sci-fi movies with bright, solid, and creative ideas. It seems new if you think more backward.

For time-travel films in general, of course, use a non-linear or parallel plot where the main character will return to the past or the future to fulfill their mission or develop the existing story. For “Primer,” it’s different. This film runs linearly, in fact, because the director doesn’t really wanna focus the point of view from the timeline itself. Like for example when Aaron and Abe multiply themselves, their point of view doesn’t change so we still see something in common.

The difference is that the effects you’ve to see as much as possible from the small part are especially the climax and ending scene which is indeed non-linear and told from the beginning again. It’s hard to explain how the movie works. In addition, Shane didn’t tell too much information about how the time machine works along with its effects. He explained and prioritizes the dialogue itself but by minimizing it so that you have to watch it over, over, and over again.

In short, confusion is a strong character in this film. Likewise with the actors in this film. Rian Johnson also briefly said in a documentary interview that “Primer” was one of his favorite time travel films and the best from all. Because he really appreciated the film, he had sent a “Looper” script to Shane Carruth as his friend to hear firsthand how he thought about time travel from his own. Shane said that everything in the script and everything he imagined about time travel was wrong. The actors in this film are at least able to compete into the same level, especially Shane Carruth besides being a writer and director of this film and David Sullivan. Casey Gooden and Anand Upadhyaya were also able to perform with few and more roles aside except at the beginning of the film.

“Primer” is not too depth when we want to talk about philosophical things but this is a puzzle film full of theories, paradoxes, time loops, un-explanation things, linear un-linear parallel plots, and etc. The movie is straightforward with the film itself even though at first we were quite difficult to adapt because besides you’re in four nerdy and geeky characters who are talking about things you don’t understand, one question that arises for me is: what is all of that? Is all the cast in this movie really understand well about the movie in addition to us as an audience?

In fact, all the cast during the filming of “Rashomon” went to Kurosawa as the director and asked what the film meant. But, what about this film? Watching “Primer” indeed reminds me of the true essence of the film and how creativity manifests and “Primer” is the primary example. It’s a low budget movie but it’s more scrip than that. It’s a solid movie wrapped so smartly and so complex that it’s necessary to watch it again and again in order to understand it.

4 out of 5 stars.