Primer is a movie about time travel. No, that’s wrong. Primer is the movie about time travel.
This is the setup: a group of engineers are working on decreasing the effect of gravity, when two them discover that the machine they’ve invented actually makes things become “untethered” in time. This means that things inside the machine swing back and forth through time like a pendulum for whatever duration of time that the machine is turned on. If a person enters the machine he can time his exit for the back-swing and come out in the past.
But this ain’t your granpa’s time machine. There are rules. The machine won’t let you go further back in time than the moment that it was switched on. For instance you could start the machine now, and two days later get in it and travel back to now, but you can’t go beyond those limits, which means no going back to see the dinosaurs. Also, travel backward in time is just like travelling forward, ie if you want to go 24 hours into the past, you have to sit inside the machine for 24 hours.
This is a film that will make you think. You will not understand it all on the first viewing. You won’t understand it all on the second viewing. I recently watched this movie for the fifth or sixth time, and I still saw something new, something that made me rethink everything I thought I knew about the story. This is that kind of movie.
But more than just being a thinking man’s movie about time travel, Primer is a study in power, because ultimately that’s what the ability to travel through time represents. The person who made the most recent “revision” to the timeline is the one holding all the cards. This subtle struggle for power creates an ever-increasing strain on the friendship of the two engineers who designed the machine.
However, for me at least, the story contained within the film is only half as interesting as the story of the film itself, and the making of Primer is a fascinating tale in and of itself. If you look at the film’s budget on Wikipedia, you will see that it was made for a scant six thousand dollars. Basically the only thing the in the budget was the film. All the acting, filming, and everything else was done by the friends and family of the director.
And it looks great. In spite of the limited budget, the visual aesthetic of the film is strikingly beautiful. The “actors” all portray their characters perfectly. This is the film that you watch and wonder how that Hollywood with all of its millions still manages to get it wrong time after time.
Bottom line, if you like to think, you should watch this film. It’s an incredible example of the power of storytelling and a reminder that anyone with a vision to share can create something wonderful.