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
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.