Written and directed by Shane Carruth
Starring Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, and Anand Upadhyaya
Available to stream on Hulu (free with ads)
If you search Google Images for “primer movie”, about half of the results will be diagrams and charts explaining the timeline of the plot. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie. Upon finishing, most people probably seek out some kind of explanation. But even if it’s on the extreme side of mind-bending, you don’t need to know exactly how things go down to appreciate the beauty of it.
Primer follows tech-geek friends Aaron, Abe, Robert, and Phillip. As the story opens they are experimenting with the construction of scientifically advanced machines, with the hope of attracting venture capital attention. An argument in direction leads the group to split up. Abe and Aaron start building their own machine, which they are eventually surprised to discover is a time machine. So they do what any young, dissatisfied, ambitious person would do–they hop in and try to get rich. But things go wildly out of control and, well…I’ll let you decipher the rest.
Writer-director Shane Carruth has made exactly two movies in his career–Primer and the stunning Upstream Color. He typically works with his close friends and amateur actors, works at a leisurely pace, and limits himself to ridiculously low budgets. This one cost $7,000 to make. That’s remarkable considering it’s one of the best time travel movies ever made. The far inferior movies Timeline and The Time Machine, which released just before Primer, cost $80million each. So Carruth has crafted a story, superior in every way, with a budget about 1/11000th of those big Hollywood spectacles.
Primer is very good because of its pure sci-fi elements, but it becomes great because of its characters. This story is as much about how the events effect their friendship as it is about time travel. For being no-name actors these guys pull off pretty convincing performances, and I kinda get the feeling they’re playing themselves. There’s an honesty and familiarity to the relationships that’s refreshing alongside the story’s labyrinthine plot.
This movie is highly re-watchable. I watched it again immediately after I finished it. There is something very fun about going back through and picking out the little hints and details. It is very challenging, but hey that’s good science fiction.