Review: Primer (2004)


Time travel almost never leads to anything good, huh?

Written By: Shane Carruth
Directed By: Shane Carruth

There are elements at play in Primer that are beyond my ability to comprehend. The mathematics and engineering used by Shane Carruth to tell his story is not something I can firmly grasp. I’m not much of a mathematical person, I’m more of an abstract mind. The science fiction I get, the basics of the story I get, and theme of friendship destroyed by powers beyond our control was easy enough to pick up on. I salute Mr. Carruth for making his movie, but there’s a level of inaccessibility to Primer that eventually comes back to hurt the film. After all science fiction is meaningless without people, and when all is said and done I’m not sure if Primer understands how to convey the emotions of the people that inhabit its world.

Most people seem to struggle with the non-linear aspect of Primer, or rather the fact that the film has a linear story but uses time travel to jump that story all over the place. That aspect of the film is handled intelligently, but it’s not impossible to decipher. Once the loop is figured out, and the helpful narration tells more than it probably should, the ins and outs of the time travel in Primer make more than enough sense. Where I struggled with Primer was in the relationship between Aaron and Abe. Specifically I felt the film failed to make me care about the destruction of their relationship.

The inability of Mr. Carruth to make me care about the destruction of Abe and Aaron’s relationship cycles back to the impregnable nature of his film. It’s interesting, and wholly distinctive, that Mr. Carruth couches his film in high level mathematics and engineering. However, that removes emotion and it removes a connection between the audience and the two man characters. Thus when their relationship does fall apart I was left to wonder why I should care. The script had given me no reason to care, and that was solely due to the scientific armor that the film chose to wear.

Where Primer gets it right is in the ramping up of the tension. As the film progresses a tension mounts in the actions of Abe and Aaron. They are toying with elements beyond their ability to control, and that leads to things quickly getting out of control. Mr. Carruth does a splendid job of portraying the rise of tension and the higher stakes at play. I’d almost go so far as to say that Primer could function as a sort of thriller, albeit a slow burner type of thriller.

Smart as it is, Primer is ultimately not that rewarding of a film. For the sake of technical know how Mr. Carruth sacrifices the humanity in the film’s main relationship. I enjoyed watching Primer, but unlike a lot of people I was not blown away by Mr. Carruth’s freshman effort. I dug the science, the time travel, and I was engaged by the tension. But, in a movie about a relationship I wanted more humanity out of said relationship. It’s a quality film, but in many areas Primer is a film that comes up wanting.





3 responses to “Review: Primer (2004)

  1. Good review Bill. I appreciate what Carruth was doing here, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Of course it probably does make a whole bunch of sense to those that really study this flick, but that’s not me, so therefore, I can’t say that I loved this one. However, I will admit it’s one that I might give another go when I’ve had my fair share of Redbulls in the afternoon.

  2. For me, the failing isn’t in the density of the film, but the lack of time given to the relationships. The science was fine, it was dense, but I could wrap my head around it. However, focusing on science doesn’t mean that relationships can be ignored, which is what this film does for the most part.

  3. Pingback: Review: Upstream Color (2013) | Bill's Movie Emporium

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