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Time is a string,
A straight line following
Every inch with the next,
And no one expects
That line to turn back
In its infinite track
Or be wrinkled or folded
Or otherwise molded
To anything but
A straight line, never cut,
For if that occurs,
Men are mere amateurs
In the Pandora’s boxes
Of time paradoxes,
And no one is certain
What’s under the curtain,
The dreadful reveal
Of sci-fi-made-real.

Rating: PG-13 (though Netflix shows it as R, which is odd since there is nothing objectionable)

I suppose I never appreciated how much free time I possessed when I had just school or just work taking up the bulk of my day. Now that I have both, it seems like everything else has been sliding to a lower priority level, including this blog sadly. Nevertheless, I have not forgotten it! Speaking of time, it’s time now to check another entry from my Blindspot list, a film about time travel that has earned a reputation for being intractably complex. Indeed, Primer is the kind of movie, like last year’s Tenet, that doesn’t just benefit from but needs a diagram or outside explanation to fully grasp it, which makes it a hard sell for people who enjoy understanding what they watch.

Made on an extreme shoestring budget (about $7000), Primer is not your typical time travel flick; there are no flashes of lightning or fancy special effects to adorn its bare-bones tale of accidental scientific discovery. Its two main characters, Abe and Aaron, are a couple of moonlighting engineers who share resources with other small-time inventors; there’s no attempt at making them personable for the audience or even translating the scientific jargon that makes up much of the dialogue. A weight-reduction experiment somehow results in an unusual small-scale time loop, and the two inventors realize they’ve stumbled onto something big when its application for humans becomes clear.

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Many a time travel movie tries to pass itself off as “realistic,” even though the paradoxes involved with the ever-cool concept make it inherently not; Primer attempts this through its low-key, unglamorous style and how it injects actual science into the dialogue. I liked the idea of discovering time travel by accident, similar to the excellent anime/game Steins;Gate, and I was preparing my thinking cap as the characters figured out how to make it work. The concept of entering a box where time is reversed and exiting at a point in the past, keeping yourself isolated beforehand to avoid interacting with your double, made sense for the most part, and I started thinking, “This isn’t so complex.” And then the plot went off the deep end….

I have read the description and rewatched parts of the movie to try to wrap my head around the story, and I can honestly say that I believe I understand most of it (which is more than I can say for Tenet), but not without a good amount of mental effort. I don’t mind films that make you think, but I find it a bit annoying when a film throws a wrench in the plot and doesn’t even care to give the audience a shred of time to decipher its meaning. There’s a running narration, but the language used seems intentionally vague, and certain plot points are dropped without any explanation whatsoever. And this was on purpose, according to Shane Carruth, who served as director, actor (as Aaron), composer, writer, and editor, a true auteur like Jamin Winans. Carruth wanted this sense of bewilderment to stress the confusion of time travel for the characters, and he succeeded, though whether that is a good thing is debatable.

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Primer is a puzzle-box movie if ever there was one. The puzzle is the reason for its existence, with things like character development or eye-catching visuals pushed to the background. I enjoyed that moment of “eureka, I think I get it,” which only happened after the credits rolled a second time, but the intentional opacity of the plot certainly doesn’t equate to entertainment value. Whether the appeal of the former outweighs the latter is entirely subjective and dependent on each person’s capacity for wondering what the heck is going on. I would agree that Primer is a required watch for anyone seeking a comprehensive view of time travel in cinema, but I don’t consider it a positive that the main reason to see it again is to gain a semblance of understanding as to what you just saw.

Best line: (Aaron, to Abe) “Man, are you hungry? I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon.”

Rank:  Dishonorable Mention (That seems harsh, but I doubt I’ll watch it again.)

© 2021 S.G. Liput
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