There’s been a lot of buzz about Shane Carruth lately, because his third feature, The Modern Ocean, is supposed to be some epic, star-studded affair with Daniel Radcliffe, Keanu Reeves, and Anne Hathaway. But let’s not concern ourselves with that right now. I want to bring you back to where it all began for Carruth, and that’s this almost experimental, undoubtedly extreme sci-fi feature he made in 2004 for just $7,000 (!) and largely shot in his own garage, called Primer. This baby kick-started his career, winning big time at the indie goldmine that is Sundance.
At its most basic level, Primer is about brilliant engineers called Aaron and Abe who accidentally discover a means of time-travel. I say it like that because, well, Primer isn’t really basic at all. It goes into serious detail about the physics and principles of time travel, and the dialogue even includes jargon that (I assume) is used by real life scientists. But the most impressive thing, and why I felt so compelled to write about it, is that it’s not just for tech-heads (though, it definitely helps if you are). I’m literally as un-techy as you can get, so there was some dialogue that I didn’t fully grasp, however throughout the film I felt challenged to listen closely and look up words that were unfamiliar (incidentally, I’m one of those young OLD people who still uses a physical dictionary, and it’s by my side at all times. I just freely admitted this on the internet, sigh… ). Of course, I’m not so ignorant that I didn’t know what a catalytic converter was. Back to the Future, Duh!
This overwhelming task of deciphering the elements was made easier by the characters, who are just regular guys who happen to be working on extraordinary projects. The rapport between them feels so natural and relatable that I felt like they were my own friends, sitting in my kitchen, discussing the various loopholes and considerable hesitations of traveling back in time. What also appealed to me was the emotional breakdown of Abe and Aaron’s relationship, as a result of their experiment. It reminded me of superheroes who are afraid of their own powers, and rightly so! As you’re probably piecing together by now, I’m quite positive that I’m not the target audience for this film, and yes, that’s why I watched it. To my surprise, not once did I feel unwelcome in the company of these sci-philes (one of whom is played by Carruth himself, and he pulls in a solid performance). Instead, I celebrated their ability to achieve the inconceivable, and got worried sick about their mortality when mysterious ‘doubles’ started appearing.
That’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of Primer: the quirky side effects of time travel. Sometimes you aren’t sure which Abe or Aaron is the real one, and it’s an exciting, sometimes frustrating puzzle. Certain lines will have your head spinning in circles, such as “Are you hungry? I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon”, but hey, that’s the roller coaster ride that you sign up for when you visit this twisty world on Netflix, as you’re about to do. Reach out on Twitter when you come out the other side, and let me know what condition you’re in. Alternatively, make your presence known in the comments below.
IMAGE: YouTube/Cinedigm/IFC Films