Movies have been called uncompromising at a whim, but there have been few that actually deserve the label. Primer is one movie that does. It is the most intellectually taxing movies I have seen in a long time. And it was constructed to be that way, without explanation and without dumbing it down for the average viewer - uncompromising.

Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) are two engineers, who accidentally create a machine that allows anyone to travel back in time. This wasn't a "be your own grandfather" type of time travel. Rather it was a time-consuming, methodical, repeatable way to essentially relive a part of your own life. For every hour of time travel, a person spends three hours living, un-living and reliving the same hour. Wikipedia has a helpful(?) graphic below, that makes this clearer.

The movie revolves around the layers of deception that the Aaron and Abe build around each other. What starts off as a means to scam the stock market, rapidly escalates into a matter of life and death as the father of Abe's girlfriend shows up comatose. Very quickly the story dissolves into a complicated mess of counter actions, using technology that neither understands, on a moral platform that neither respects.

What sets the movie apart is the strictly matter-of-fact approach throughout. There are no elaborate set-up shots, no background clarifying flash-backs. Shot with a budget of just $7,000, the movie succeeds in bringing an immersive experience of chaotic life at the bleeding edge of new technology without checks and boundaries. The look of the movie is flat, overexposed and industrial with echoes of metal and garages. The dialogue is jargon filled, authentic, and impenetrable. The plot quirky, and unresolved.

If you like closure in your movies, you will detest the mere existence of this movie. Even if you are used to making do with a little ambiguity, this film will test those limits. The movie isn't as much a story telling as it is an exploration of the what-if. If you ever thought about time travel, or wondered about the mind of an inventor, or worried about power without checks - you'd want to pop this DVD in and let go.

November 27, 2010


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