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Primer   ...   movie reviews , spoiler_low , spoiler_high
sun 2005-aug-14 14:19:20 pdt   ...   permalink

So friday night, we watched Primer. I had put it into the NetFlix queue based solely on Dominic's recommendation. He didn't actually say much about it beyond that he really enjoyed it, and that it's a low-budget indie film. I also found out that it involved time travel. That was basically all I knew before watching it. As I've mentioned before, I generally prefer to know as little as possible going into a movie.

Overall I loved it. Certainly it's not perfect, and there are aspects that I was a little disappointed by. But for me, those things were easily outweighed by the ways in which it's great.

<spoiler detail="low">

Now, first of all, I'm a big fan of time travel stories. I love all the different ways of modeling the universe, the different ways of handling possible contradictions and so on. And Primer's approach works quite well.

Also it was nice that the scientific jargon and such mostly seemed pretty realistic to me. Of course, when they got into the actual time travel "science", it got pretty hand-wavey and felt noticeably less real, but you know, whatever.

All the science fiction aspects aside, a big part of what makes the film work as well as it does is the interactions between the two main characters. However, one of my bigger complaints is that even with multiple viewings, in a lot of the action that drives the film, their motivations still aren't entirely clear to me.

So yeah, multiple viewings... After watching the movie friday night, we watched bits of it again, and some with the director's commentary. Then on saturday we watched it all the way through again, some of it more than once. Stuff gets complicated, and I wanted to fully understand it all... But I'm still not totally sure of certain bits.

Can't really say much more without getting into important plot details. So maybe I'll close this low-detail spoiler section and start a high-detail spoiler section.

<spoiler detail="HIGH">

Okay, so first of all, Granger. So, Carruth says in the director's commentary on the DVD that this is the one plot point which is not explained, because Abe and Aaron themselves have no way to know what happened in the future that led to Granger finding out about and using one of the boxes to come back. Carruth apparently has some idea of what the possible sequence of events leading to that might be, but he apparently doesn't have it fully specified even in his head.

On the one hand, I can accept that he made the deliberate choice to not explain it because, as Abe and Aaron are forced to accept, it is just unknowable. But on the other hand, it's a little disappointing that there's just no real answer. In any case, it seems like it must have something to do with Rachel and her ex-boyfriend.

But moreover, Carruth throws in this weird thing where Granger loses consciousness when Abe gets close to him. And the vague hand-wavey explanation for this seems to be that it has something to do with Abe having been the one who in the future told Granger about the box, and the supposed paradox resulting from the fact that Abe himself now would never tell Granger, so how would he get here... But based on the way things are modeled in the rest of the movie, there is no paradox -- Granger came from a different timeline, so whatever Abe from that timeline might have done and whatever Abe from this timeline might plan to do in the future are totally independent.

Furthermore, why does no similar problem result when Aaron and Abe go back and interact directly with their younger selves? And while we're on the subject, what is Aaron trying to accomplish when he uses the failsafe the first time and drugs his younger self? Is he simply trying to gain the upper hand over Abe? That somehow doesn't feel like enough.

Someone put together this timeline, which does a pretty good job of consistently describing things, but it's not entirely correct. For example, it attributes Granger's loss of consciousness to getting out of the box early, which would perhaps have been a better explanation, except that there's all this business about it happening when Abe gets near him. Also, that timeline places the party on the wrong evening -- the movie does make clear that the party takes place on the evening of the day that Abe makes his first trip and shows Aaron the box and everything.

But one thing I like in that timeline is that it has Aaron bringing both boxes folded up with him through the failsafe, and then setting one of them up in place of Abe's failsafe, and the other as his own extra failsafe. This seems like it must be right.

Another question I was left with was, when is the scene at the airport? If that Abe is planning to sabotage the other Abe's building of the box, then it seems like it must somehow be taking place before the other Abe's first trip back. But that doesn't really seem to make sense either...

Anyway, so the loose ends didn't feel sufficiently well tied up at the end. Ah well.


So ... strongly recommended without hesitation. Just maybe with a few caveats.

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