Primer : What happens if it actually works?
Shane Carruth’s feature film debut Primer was shot on a budget of $7000 (”the cost a used car”), which he wrote, directed, edited and starred in. It was shot on film (as opposed to digital) in Shane’s hometown in Texas, and indeed, the garage in which the guys work in their cable and components environment is Shane’s garage.
Primer is based around four guys (geeks, nerds, brainiacs, delete as applicable), who by day work for technlogy firms, buy by night they concentrate on their own pursuits: namely to invent things with the view to patenting and marketing. They work on a shoestring budget, having to take apart household appliances to get materials they need. Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) stumble upon a creation which, at first glance, appears to be some sort of anti-gravity machine which reduces an object’s mass. But, strangely, the machine excretes protein, coating its interior after a period of use. After they have it analysed, even more strangely, it’s found that there is too much present for the amount of time the machine has existed. Abe puts his watch in (both digital and analogue), and finds that the time ‘experienced’ by the watch doesn’t agree with time outside the box. They subsequently decide to keep quiet about it, wanting to pursue and investiage it more, before letting other people - that includes quietly ejecting the other two in their group, at least until they can work out what it is.
Based quite a bit of guess work, and logical thinking, Abe and Aaron come to the conclusion that the machine causes a time loop in which there are two ends: A and B. The A end is a point in time when the machine is turned on, the B end is the point the watch is placed in the machine. The watch is effectivlely bounced from B to A to B - with the possibility of entering at the B end (now), and emerging at the A end (when the machine was powered up). Without going into technicalities (it would spoil half of the mesmerising effect of the film), they build a bigger version- in which they can place themselves - making various calculations on how long they should have the machine switched on for, what paradoxes they should avoid and what they should and shouldn’t do to keep the timelines in order.
I wasn’t aware of this film until the beginning of this year and I understand it’s been through the film festivals and has won some awards: Grand Jury Award 2004 Sundance Film Festival / Alfred P. Sloan Award 2004 Sundance Film Festival.
The tag line at the top of the page is one of two which is used for the film. The other tag line: ‘If you always want what you can’t have, what do you want when you can have anything?’ doesn’t address the actual guts of the movie. It’s a by-product, they can go back in time and use their knowledge to, for example, get money buying and selling stocks. For me, the tagline at the top is the essence of the film, it’s the wonder of creating something which actually works (the reduction of mass), but then seeing a side effect of the creation (affecting time) as being the true wonder of it.
Towards the end of the movie, you really have to concentrate (without giving anything away) because time itself is changed, and certain timelines aren’t shown as they are wiped out by them looping back and replaying it. There’s a grainyness to the film, simply because the frames were blown up from their original size.
Shane Carruth has stated that out of 80 minutes filmed for the movie, only 2 minutes were cut from the final product, which to me is pretty phenominal, as it looks like it’s been edited to perfection. There was a scene later cut out portraying Aaron as a diabetic. The shot showed him giving himself an insulin injection - this was later removed. Also, in the scene in which Abe-2 knocks out Abe-1 with nitrous oxide, the container he’s holding is actually a rice cooker. Also, we see sleeping Abe’s profile, but not standing Abe, because the latter was Shane Carruth standing in for David Sullivan.
During numerous takes the director, Shane Carruth, mutters “cut” under his breath. According to the DVD commentary, this is due to their extremely low budget which did not allow them to “waste” film. Carruth notes that a total of 80 minutes of footage was shot; the final film is 78 minutes. I took these little nuggets of information from IMDB as they are interesting and add to the film.
This movie is one for people who enjoy a though provoking (if somewhat baffling story), excellent photography - it’s a delight to watch and it never looks cheap. It doesn’t use shiny, lights flashing, big effects either (which is a big bonus with regard to the machine - it’s made from ‘common’ materials). With its growing cult following, this film will be around for a long time to come.
If you do happen to watch it, and start to yawn in the first few minutes, hang around, keep watching, it grows on you. And then watch it again.