Monday, November 16, 2009
Review: Primer (2004)
I'll admit that I have two weakness. The first: Chocodiles. Those things are fucking delicious. The second: Time travel. (If you were going to say my second weakness was "connecting ideas" then you're an asshole).
Time travel as a subject (or a subsubgenre) has the power to elevate any material from boring to not-quite-as-boring, from romantic comedies to, uh, other things. Not to say there haven't been bad time travel films; there are at least a couple. Time travel has, however, yielded more benefits than detriments. It began a more mature era of Harry Potter films, the best action film ever made, an okay-by-me Van Damme film, a Terry Gilliam film that *gasp* made a profit, at least one good Supernatural episode with TWO DEAN WINCHESTERS, and in fiction, Steve Aylett's best book and the return of the good Palahniuk novel.
But until I saw Primer, I hadn't really seen ANY grounded science in the mix. Being a largely theorhetical/impossible concept, it was more of a speculative excuse for the average man to wield power, or fix his life, or have wacky time-related deaths-by-paradox. Primer is an injection of adrenaline in a long-atrophied muscle.
After a dark sign of things to come in the form of a gruff voice over coming in on the receiving end of a telephone line, Primer showers us all in a technobabble bath, one that doesn't actually stop until the movie ends. Nearest I can tell, most of the technobabble in the first 15 minutes is useless to the time travel element and functions only to establish that the two main characters and their friends test things in their garage and are attemtping to create something innovative and most importantly, profitable.
In what is perhaps unique to time travel films, there is nothing obviously wrong about the main characters' lives. They have well-paying jobs, one of them has a wife and a house, and they enjoy a steady social life outside of work. Once they stumble across the time travel formula, there's no real incentive to meddle with the continuum outside of 'Let's see what happens.'
At the risk of ruining the plot (the film is only 77 minutes long so any specific detail is dangerously close to spoling the entire thing), I will just say that 'Ho man do they ever see.' Er, 'What happens, that is.' Even Primer's trailer has to resort to being incredibly misleading in order to sidestep ruination.
Being totally in the dark to the film's nuances is part of the experience, or in my case, continuing experience. The issues in sound design and acting quality, largely due to the budget, are unfortunate but not totally damaging. I love it. Carruth has created a complex story that refuses to hold my hand or promise an easy solution. Good.