“Are you hungry? I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon.”
Four friends, Aaron (Shane Carruth), Abe (David Sullivan), Robert (Casey Gooden) and Phillip (Anand Upadhyaya), who also happen to be engineers; supplement their incomes doing projects out of Aaron’s garage at night and on weekends. Aaron and Abe begin working on one project independently. They are trying to reduce the weight of an object. Basically an anti-gravity devise. They have some success with getting their weeble (as in weeble’s wobble but they don’t fall down.) to weigh less but there is an unusual side effect to the experiment. A watch left in the devise shows a different time than it should. The time on the watch shows that it has experienced 1300 times the amount of time the devise was being run. A loop in time. A continuing loop for the period the devise was activated. Depending on where you are in the loop the object in the machine is in a different time. Ergo, they have invented a time machine.
On his own, Abe has rented a storage container and has secretly built a machine big enough to hold a person. He experiments with the machine before he eventually tells Aaron about it. Together they build another machine. Now they both have their very own time machine. They start using the machines to make money in the stock market, leaving their friends Robert and Phillip in the dust.
Here is where it gets confusing. The father of Abe’s girlfriend Rachel finds out about the machine and uses it. It makes him comatose. This freaks out Abe who decides that time travel is bad. He tries to prevent his original self from using the machine in the first place thereby stopping all the events he changed. He tries to use a “Failsafe” machine that he also made on the sly to travel back in time to before he took his first trip. What he doesn’t know is that Aaron found the failsafe machine and used it himself and brought back another time machine box making Abe think he was using the failsafe machine. All while this is going on Aaron has been recording all their conversations.
Here is where I get confused. Aaron and Abe have been going back in time a lot. Aaron has fought with a previous version of himself who had used his own failsafe to drug the original Aaron and took his place when Abe first showed Aaron the time machine and using the recordings to mimic what the original Aaron said. At one point Abe and Aaron continue to go back in time to try to stop someone from killing Abe’s girlfriend. The time machine is also causing brain damage, jealousy and paranoia between the two guys. This is a big problem for their friendship.
“Primer” was released in 2004 and was produced, written, directed and stars Shane Carruth. He also did the music and edited the film. With a budget of around $7,000, this indy movie is fast paced and not easy to follow. You really need to pay attention. You may even need to watch it more than once.
There are basically two kinds of people that watch this film. Those that love it and those that hate it. The haters will find it boring, confusing, amateurish, droning and pointless. Those that love it found it compelling, amazing, haunting, fascinating and awesome.
Yes it is confusing. But so it time travel. In “Primer” time travel is achieved in the following way: The original traveler activates a delayed switch on the box. He then leaves for a specified period of time so as not to meet his double. After the delayed time period is up the machine starts and the double exits. The original time traveler returns and enters the box thereby joining the looped time-stream inside the box. The original traveler stays in the box a specified time traveling into the past becoming his double. The double exits the box and has a specified period of time to alter events thereby creating a new timeline. This means there is a period of time where both the original traveler and the double exist at the same time. In the film it is a six hour period.
Carruth said that the principals of time travel in the movie were inspired by Richard Feynman’s diagrams concerning time. Carruth said that Feynman’s diagrams map the interaction of elementary particles and that there is no difference watching the interaction happen forward or backward in time. (Yea, sure, I can see that)
What “Primer” ultimately is, is a fast paced, head scratcher that sometimes makes you think and sometimes makes your head explode. The amateur filming style adds to the whirlwind of infinite timelines and the idea that even if you think you have control of your life and your surroundings you may not. In the end, with so many possible futures, what is your place in the cosmos? Are you the real time traveler or are you the duplicate?