Primer poster

Money is what drives the entertainment industry. If you can get the money behind a project, it’s likely to succeed—exceptions being John Carter. Yet, this does not mean that a movie with an unfathomably large budget will be better made than one with an inconceivably low budget. Take The Avengers. Its budget was literally 31,428 times the budget for Primer, but in many ways, Primer is a better film.



For a measly $7,000, writer/director/star/all-around-good-guy Shane Carruth brings us an immensely confusing, but startlingly intriguing time travel drama. Four highly intelligent friends are in the process of creating some machine. We are not given its purpose, nor is it clear if the engineers are aware of its capabilities. What we do know, is that there is tension within the group and the machine is something they do not want to be public knowledge.

Sadly, I cannot say the plot becomes much more explicit because the film never fully unravels. After doing some minor digging, I found that no one—NO ONE— understands Primer upon first viewing it, so I don’t feel quite as stupid as I did about forty minutes into it.

Primer 1

As a former engineer, Carruth peppers the dialog with two things: jargon and vague language. For the former, he purposefully includes language a scientific layperson like myself would just accept as truth because, frankly, I haven’t the foggiest idea what was being discussed. Then, once the crew discovers their machine has slight time travel capabilities, all bets are off for clarity. The leads, Aaron and Abe, begin secretive conversations that never directly refer to anything. We are given a lot of conversations like this:

“So this is real? We are actually going to do this?

“We can’t just let this thing go without trying to stop it, Aaron. It’s too powerful. The implications are too significant. I know this thing is amazing, but we can’t tell anyone.”


Obviously I’m paraphrasing, but this is essentially how half of the movie plays out. Despite all this secrecy and muddled language, you are still pushed in the search for knowledge and understanding. You want to know what they’re talking about; nay, you must know. Even once the film ends and you have an inkling of a notion of the possibility that maybe you understood a bit, you want to re-watch it to check.

It’s indicative of Carruth’s talent that, despite a lack of transparency, we are still enthralled. Furthermore, the fact that he received a “Thanks” credit for a recent time travel blockbuster (Looper) shows that others in the industry trust his insight. Primer was his first attempt at filmmaking and it’s a doozy. To truly appreciate Primer it has to be viewed taking into account the budget and situation. I’m excited and intrigued by Carruth’s latest Sundance hit, Upstream Color. Maybe that won’t provide some much needed information to understand Primer, but I’m sure it’ll be just as fascinating.

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