Primer directed by Shane Carruth
This is one of the smartest science fiction movies I have ever seen, and it was made for almost nothing. In creative terms, this is storytelling that relies on the genius of the plot and writing, not the acting or directing. I first saw this movie on the shelf of my local blockbuster video (remember those?). I used to rent movies on a Friday night if I had nothing to do, which was often after a long week.
I rented the movie because of the blurb you see above. Any comparison to Kubrick is some serious balls in my book. For a $3 rental (no wonder why it went out of business) I figured I would gamble and take a flyer on it.
So I watched it and wasn’t really impressed around halfway in. It seemed like a pretty normal time travel plot surrounding two main characters. It could have been a stage play. Many of the scenes were in a garage or storage locker.
Unimpressed, I went to the fridge and grabbed a beer and kept watching. In my head, I thought I knew what was going to happen, but couldn’t be further from the truth. I was tricked when I didn’t expect to be. The last half of the film, Carruth pulls a flash forward and doesn’t explain or narrate how far the story has moved. We were expected to piece it together, and I failed.
The move ended and I was left speechless.
I am a movie buff, and I didn’t understand what the fuck just happened.
So I watched the last 20 minutes over again.
I still didn’t get it.
I watched it again and again, and I think I picked up on the plot points, but then went I finally went to look online at a forum or blog for someone smarter than me to explain it, I was shocked to see that I had not grasped the real story.
So hats off to Shane Carruth. He tricked me. Good on him. Was it better than 2001? Fuck no. Was it the kind of low budget movie I can write and make? Probably, if I could find an actor or two who want to work on a shoe string budget, give me a call.
I rate it 7/10 time machines for the acting/directing and 10/10 time machines for not dumbing down the narrative. It is what has garnered the movie a cult following in the 12 years since release. Could this have been done with a $100M budget? Hell no. Focus groups would have told studio execs to add a funny buddy (perhaps someone young to pull in that demographic) who asks questions all throughout the movie, so that Carruth could explain the plot to each step of the way. Then, they would have added an antagonist (Perhaps someone from TV who wants to jump to film) that we could have seen, who likely would have been competing with them, maybe after stealing the design. Then a woman would have been added for mass appeal with a romantic subplot (she is both smart and hot, but sassy enough to play hard to get 2/3 of the film, when she gets kidnapped). Then, someone would have needed to blow up in the end. Evil characters always blow up or fall from a high place. Maybe the antagonist would have had his time machine sabotaged, and he time travels back to 10,000 BC and gets dropped in the middle of the ocean.
I digress, as usual.
GUEST REVIEWER: MM LEONARD
I just remembered I wrote this 30 years ago and boy, you have not seen anything yet. It just gets worse and worse. By the year 2044, all movies must pass a checklist to get greenlit. So don’t complain. There are still pretty good films that come out. Yes, I know, the budget is usually nominal, with budgets either being $200M tentpole films based on a pre-existing franchise as a sequel/prequel/reboot/relaunch/gender-relaunch/racial-relaunch/old-story-modernized/based-on-a-book or $2M movies forced through the indie system. Believe me, you live in the good times. Eventually all movies will be $450 budget blockbusters that are considered “safe.” Just last weekend, I watched Vader vs Alien vs Godzilla vs Wolverine. People were bitching about an Eskimo woman playing Vader, the Alien having a cape and tophat and speaking German, Godzilla being a “baby-Godz” and standing only 10 feet tall (pissing off hardcore fans demanding it to be as tall as a building, but I say whatever), and Wolverine being played by the esteemed Scarlett Johansson (Some say she is getting to the roots of Wolverine, being a really really old character). Yes, I rolled my eyes at the creative liberties they took, but who says Vader can’t be Wolverine’s AND Godzilla’s father?