Thursday, December 21, 2006

The "Primer" primer

When I mentioned the movie Primer a couple of weeks ago, Nate (who says I never link to him) wanted to know what blew me away. But I wasn't sure I could do it justice, so I called in the big guns.

TheLyamhound, a gentleman who some of you may remember from our atheist discussions earlier in the year (he represented the Buddhist perspective in our discussions), has kindly agreed to write a brief intro. He is imminently eminently more qualified than I, since he is actually "in the biz," so to speak--he is an actor, involved in the arts, and because of that he brings a unique perspective to the table.

So Matt posed a question several posts ago as to whether any of his readers had seen Primer, noting that he and his spouse had been "blown away" by the film. I concurred, but offered little else on the film. Now, for the benefit of a member of Matt's audience--hi there, Nathan--I've been asked to describe the film in greater detail (though hopefully not to explain it, as I'd be hard-pressed to do so).

Let me first say that the last time I recall seeing a film dealing with the issue of time travel that was so patently unreliant on F/X was probably back when Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour did Somewhere in Time, and that was less a time travel movie per se than a seeping historical romance with a time travel element to offer a tragic twist to the end as silly--and as effective--as the deus ex machina of your choice. That film was a sentimental favorite. But Primer revels a good deal more freely in the mechanics of time travel itself, as its characters attempt to evade responsibility, courting paradox and dissolution at every turn.

The premise would be simple, were it not so maddeningly vague: Two men working on a machine designed to . . . well, I'm not sure, really, but it seems like something wonkish and numerical, like a statistical error-checking machine (the beauty of marketing a science fiction film to me is that I can claim only the broadest, most abstract understanding of any science whatsoever). In any case, they begin finding mold in the machine that takes longer to grow than the machine has been in existence, and realize that they have inadvertently created a time machine.

Given that setup, it's only fair to say that not much happens in Primer, at least not on the surface. The guys try to profit from use of the machine, and things, predictably enough, go wrong; they then spend the remainder of the movie trying to undo the paradox created while each still attempts, subtly, to subvert the other. The whole thing weighs in at a lean 78 minutes. What I find impressive is that the film relies on the talents of its cast and its script; direction is highly economical, even spartan, and the real joy and drama emerges from the endless--and, for me, ultimately unsolved--puzzle presented.

Also, as a 30-something actor/writer with no film credits, it's heartwarming to see a 30-something actor with no film credits pull something together that's so deceptively simple, and that manages to inject some high-minded ingenuity into a genre that's needed a good kick in the backside for a few decades.

To that, I can only add that after you see the movie, if you want to try to unravel the mystery, you might take a look at this site, which offers discussion of the movie, as well as a graphic that tries to piece together the sequence of what happened.


Anonymous said...

I'm already getting chills...

Now I have to pay wife to go get a pedicure or something so I can watch this. She watched Stargate with me as a birthday present, but I don't force her to watch sci-fi with me. I prefer having a happy marriage.

Anonymous said...

And shouldn't that be "eminently" more qualified? Or are you trying to say he's more qualified only because he was ready before you were?

thelyamhound said...

Actually, I think that's the only reason I AM more qualified. :^)

thelyamhound said...

Oh, and what's with calling me a gentleman?

Anonymous said...

Oh sure hound, I ask you to write a guest post and you blow me off. Gummby asks and you oblige. This is like me and my brother all over again. Hound likes Gummby best.

Gummby said...

Nate: he who came after me ranks higher than me because he came before me. Or something like that. (Although that statement could be considered heretical, but it could also apply to the movie, so I liked the double meaning enough to use it. But mostly, that's just what I get for rushing my post instead of taking the time to get it right. Guess I do need that English Grammar.)

BTW--my wife likes sci-fi; wasn't that one of the attributes of Proverbs 31?

Hound: I'm from the South. It comes with the territory. Don't take it personally.

Bug: I knew this would bug you. I almost sent you an e-mail, but I thought it would be too much like gloating. Hah!

thelyamhound said...

Well, Buggy, Matt gave me a topic. It was nice and specific (and a topic in which I already had a vested interest, to boot). I don't like him better. Honest!

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas Gumms!