“I haven’t eaten since this afternoon.”
To make a movie that wins Sundance Festival’s prestigious “Grand Jury Prize” award is one thing, but to do it with a debut film that cost $7000 is, frankly, ridiculous. The mathematician (yes, not filmmaker) behind this feat was Shane Carruth and the movie was Primer (2004).
Primer deals with sci-fi’s most dangerous subject; time travel. When done poorly, time travel movies alienate their audiences and cause them to question the logic and science of the plot, which, as a filmmaker, is the opposite of what you want of your audience. A great time travel movie is one that moves at a satisfying pace, passes over you like a warm breeze and delivers enough twists and turns to keep you occupied and without questioning too much logic. Primer does all of this, yet at the same time is full of mathematical jargon that only the physicists among us will understand, and is still a success.
The greatest thing I can say about this movie is that it was raw. It was a pleasure to watch because you can tell the cast and crew were having an absolutely incredible time just making a movie. There were scenes in which they didn’t have a focus puller, so the blocking made members of cast appear out of focus. In a Hollywood production this would be unacceptable, but in Primer it added to the heady, sci-fi feel of the movie. The camerawork was fantastic, and the cinematographer did a great job with the colour tones and overall look and feel of each shot; everything was adventurous and exciting, even shots of computer chips, solder and numbers on computer monitors!
The innocent pursuit of knowledge is a large theme of the movie. The protagonists stumble across one of the biggest breakthroughs in human history, and while the science is exciting the scientists as well as the audience, there is an undercurrent of tension and unease. Much like the sci-fi movies of the 30s and 60s, the scientific progress is seen as an unknown, possibly dangerous pursuit for the human race. This tone left me on the edge of my seat, wanting to know how the plot was going to unfold, but it was never boring or unenjoyable. It also ventures into Memento/The Presitge territory, which are firm favourites of mine, and the ending is as enigmatic as you’d expect. Everything that stitched the movie together was execptional, and despite some of the acting being a little bit suspect at times, Primer was one of those movies that I will definitely be watching again.
If you are a sci-fi fan, a lover of independent movies, or want to watch a movie during which your brain needs to be 100% engaged, Primer is the perfect choice.