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Can we talk about Primer, the movie? 
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 Can we talk about Primer, the movie?


I'm blown away by this movie. I dedicated 3 hours yesterday night to trying to understand what the hell was going on, how the machine works and exactly how many Aarons and Abes there are and why. Now that I sort of have my head wrapped around it, I have to say Primer is probably the most solid hard sci-fi film I've ever watched... That being said, it's also one of the most obtuse films I've ever watched. The film actively disregards the viewer: Whether you understand this film is not important. Throughout, you are nothing but a disembodied observer uncomfortably standing around, listening in on the conversations of people who are probably smarter than you are. What they are doing is only cursorily explained to you, and you are dragged along through the plot without any time whatsoever to mull over what is being presented. This contrasts with other hard sci fi, which generally give you ample time to digest what is happening, and contain large amount of exposition, both visual and dialogue-driven, to provide the viewer with food for thought. In this movie, as the viewer, you are tolerated. And if you can't keep up, that's your problem.

Which brings me to what struck me most about the movie: There's a clear and intentional separation of the narration from the actual structure of the story. The reason anyone who watches this movie is probably going to re-watch it before piecing it together successfully is that the narrative doesn't include the most important part of the story: What happened at the party that made Aaron create two duplicates of himself in order to avoid it? What happened that made either Aaron or Abe tell Thomas Granger about the time machine, and how exactly did he come to use it? Most importantly: How, when and why did Aaron and Abe make their respective time-reversals? While the story is consistent and enough clues are given for you to piece together the general timeline and argument of the movie, you're expected to take all the pieces and glue them together on your own. You're not expected to empathize with the crisis, only understand it in retrospect.
It doesn't help that the main argument of the story is basically explained outright by the narrator in a 20 minute long exposition, instead of being followed through-out the movie.

I feel that an entirely different narrative structure could have done a much better job of transmitting to the audience what exactly was happening:
If we'd followed the third Aaron through his several time-reversals, we would've had a much clearer understanding of when he went back, to where, and how that affected the rest of the story.
If the movie had begun with the party and seen Aaron go into the backup machine in order to set things straight, the motivation and crisis would've been much clearer and therefore the rest of the movie would've been brought into perspective.

So why did they choose to tell the story the way they did? As it stands, I think the reason is that the event that causes the narrative argument, the incident at the party, never actually happens. And they want to emphasize this. History was changed. None of the characters we follow ever see the incident at the party, because it's already been prevented. Therefore we, as the audience, have no window through which to observe the event without being given a viewpoint that has blinked out existence due to the resulting time shenanigans. The story is effectively driven by an event that never occurs.

Some light is shed on the implication, the philosophical heart of the movie, towards the end, when the narrator talks about what it means to break free of causality, of what it means to attempt to change the outcome of history, and succeed. It's telling that these men are presented as intelligent, trained, obsessive and detailed; and that they manage to do what they do not through luck or as the culmination of some wild and climactic action scene, but through careful preparation and a deep, minutely constructed understanding of the situation. It's also telling that at the end of the movie we see our main protagonist, our narrator, building what must presumably be another time machine the size of a warehouse.
The science fiction in this movie is nothing if not the best quality sci fi. The machine makes sense within the story "physics" (some suspension of disbelieve is necessary, as always... but that really doesn't concern me as I'm not a physicists), the mechanism and logic for how it works is lovingly and obsessively detailed, and the consequences of the existence of the technology are both adequately explored and masterfully used to create an interesting story.
...But being the literature nerd that I am, I can't walk away from this movie without trying to interpret it. And the final take on the movie that I can construct from my understanding of it is this: The science fiction aside, at the end of the day, the best model I can use to put this movie into perspective is the first and most prominent story model there is: The Hero's Journey, his growth from immature potential toward understanding and control over both himself and his environment. Aaron starts off a slave to time and history, but manages to free himself and change history by fully understanding it and acting upon it with his gained knowledge and experience, always using his initial potential: His intelligence. His growth is solidified with the final scene of the movie: Having gained control of the situation which motivated his growth, he moves on to a more ambitious project. One that will require a time machine the size of a warehouse and which necessarily implies a much greater mastery of history.



Last edited by VMLM on Sat Jan 11, 2014 2:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Sat Jan 11, 2014 7:50 pm
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Post Re: Can we talk about Primer, the movie?
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at the end of the day, the best model I can use to put this movie into perspective is the first and most prominent story model there is: The Hero's Journey, his growth from immature potential toward understanding and control over both himself and his environment. Aaron starts off a slave to time and history, but manages to free himself and change history by fully understanding it and acting upon it with his gained knowledge and experience, always using his initial potential: His intelligence. His growth is solidified with the final scene of the movie: Having gained control of the situation which motivated his growth, he moves on to a more ambitious project. One that will require a time machine the size of a warehouse and which necessarily implies a much greater mastery of history.


nice viewpoint! i remember watching the movie and enjoying it, i remember thinking "wow they did a great job there" but i have fading memory syndrome when it comes to movies, so i'll have to watch it again, being a goldfish has it's advantages, you get to watch great movies twice for the first time.



Sat Jan 11, 2014 8:19 pm
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Post Re: Can we talk about Primer, the movie?
According to Wiki this movie cost 7k to make. Wow!



Sun Jan 12, 2014 6:16 pm
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Post Re: Can we talk about Primer, the movie?
That IS amazing! It makes you wonder what exactly some filmmakers are doing that they need multi-million dollar budgets to inexpertly narrate uninspiring, unimaginative stories.

It got me wondering, what other movies were made on a low budget? I found this list of movies made for less than 10,000 dollars. It's pretty small, but then I didn't expect to find many successful movies made on such a low budget. Do any of you guys know any really great movies made for less than $10,000?

Anyway, I got curious as to other low-budget movies, and there's actually a lot of good stuff here. I'm going to start off with Another Earth, Ghost World, Donnie Darko, Clerk and The Science of Sleep.



Mon Jan 13, 2014 7:38 am
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