Saturday, February 23, 2008

Primer (2004)

Directed by Shane Carruth
Starring Shane Carruth, David Sullivan

Before I begin, let me start by saying that this film was made for a grand total of $7,000, most of the crew seems to consist of the actors' family members (including special mention in the credits to the Carruth family caterers) and yet won the Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic Film category at Sundance Film Festival in 2004.

The movie's story begins simply enough, assuming you're an engineer. Aaron and his friend Abe are engineers, working at home in the garage to try and find the next big discovery without having to surrender it to their company, thereby losing the opportunity to cash in on the new technology.

One of their devices - quite literally a black box - has the immediately observable effect of reducing the weight of any object placed inside it. They're not sure how it does that, only that it does. But the more they experiment with the box, the more mysterious it becomes. It runs without power; it collects mold faster than it should; a watch placed inside it comes out telling the wrong time. Yes, Aaron and Abe have made time travel possible. So they build a box big enough to climb into and then the fun begins.

The movie progresses steadily from this point, examining the potential for exploiting such a technology in multiple ways and the steps one must take to avoid disrupting the standard flow of time. There's not too much damage that can be done since the box can't send you back to a time before you turned it on and you're limited by the amount of oxygen in the box (which can be supplemented by bringing along a canister of compressed oxygen).

I don't want to give too much more away, but suffice it to say things start to get a little confused (one of the characters remarks that he hasn't eaten since "later this afternoon"), a little personal, a little paradoxical, and a lot paranoid.

By the time the movie is over, the physical and mental stresses of such an existence catch up with not only the characters, but also the audience. You may need to watch the ending a few times to figure out exactly what's going on, and even then you might not be right.

Considering the budget for this film and the fact that the writer/director was also the lead actor (and that members of his family are credited as the caterers), you'd expect that the acting would suffer. Well, while it's not something to write home about, it certainly wasn't phoned in. You can see that the actors did make an effort to learn their lines and deliver them well. Everyone with lines does a good enough job to make you forget that this is a low budget film festival entry. Also, they acted better than I ever could, so I salute them for that.

Not much in the way of effects here. Even the props are pretty low budget. I'm pretty sure that they used CDs to construct the large version of their invention.

Atmosphere and Immersive Detail
Over the course of the film, the characters display a sense of displacement, never quite being comfortable with which timeline they're in, what they need to do to avoid a paradox, what happens when 2 copies of the same cell phone receive a phone call, etc. Their disorientation helps, but isn't completely necessary, to make you feel just as turned around and upside down as they are.

A good - albeit confusing - film. Not something I'd recommend for everyone though. If you subscribe to a science magazine or have ever read a book on physics, you're likely to enjoy this film. If your idea of science is something nerds do, then I'd skip this one. This film is my answer to why Hollywood always glosses over science, even when it was central to the source material (i.e.: Jurassic Park)

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