Ten minutes into the movie, “Primer” is already baffling. The dialogue is heavy on tech jargon. It felt like watching a foreign flick without subtitles. But I continue to observe, out of reluctant curiosity. The movie follows Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan), two nicely dressed engineers who are building “something” in a garage. They don’t know what it is but they’re onto something. Then one day they discover they’ve invented, in Abe’s words, “the most important thing that any living organism has ever witnessed.” He’s talking about a time machine.
The movie reveals this without any kind of punctuation. I had to rewind the DVD to make sure. What’s a science fiction story doing in an indie pic? I’m accustomed to special effects when it comes to that genre. But… but… Eureka! It works. Time traveling is nothing new, but the concept is mainly employed like a plane. Its purpose is to transport a person into a foreign surrounding (Medieval Times, 1950’s, future). “Primer” limits itself in early stages of invention. Like the Wright Brothers who can only defy gravity at a certain height, Aaron and Abe only go back hours. But it’s enough to generate complications through possible machine defects, miscalculations, and changes in human behavior.
The impressive screenplay by Shane Carruth makes sense in the way it doesn’t. While it is a thinking movie, it also has the intention to baffle. We’re meant to be a few steps behind like it’s some sort of precaution. You get the impression that even Carruth might not understand everything. And that’s the idea. The time travel machine is dangerously beyond comprehension. In a way, it grounds the story and prevents Carruth from writing like an all-knowing God. Aaron and Abe are not treated as helpless guinea pigs, albeit they risk their lives and sanity in the name of science. Carruth provides them with considerable smarts and logic to navigate an unknown field. The screenplay is complex but it doesn’t feel gimmicky. It is chronologically challenged since there’s an actual manipulation of time.
I like how the movie has a sense of credibility. The lack of special effects makes the movie more realistic. The two inventors are neither truly mad nor too good-looking to play the part. The actors might act a bit bland but they’re convincing as engineers and I was amazed how subtle they made their characters grow. “Primer” is a challenge and I admit that it’s not for everybody. I know most of my friends will hate it as much as I love it. But films that can brilliantly skew your perspective like this are too rare. Movies should not be limited to forms of entertainment and artistic expressions. I want to stumble upon the most important thing that any living organism has ever witnessed. Why can’t that be a movie?