“Primer” (THINKfilm) is a film that, for some time now, has been riding the fame of winning the 2004 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize. As disgraceful and hollow as that description might seem, that’s most likely how one would quickly describe it in a sentence. In the vein of hollow summation, many eyebrows were most likely raised at its similarity to quasi-cult phenomenon “Donnie Darko.” However, just as the previous description of “Primer” fails in any way to do it justice, so does drawing such a parallel between two very disparate and fundamentally unrelated films.
“Primer” really is a film by Shane Carruth. He directed, starred, produced, wrote, funded and edited it exactly as he wanted, and we are to assume it turned out exactly as he intended. His ambition and drive is only elevated when one considers that he did all of this with only $7,000. The minimalism inevitable with such a low budget benefits the film’s realistic approach to the commonly over-dramatized topic of time travel.
The basic plot of “Primer”, while lacking any clear narrative solidity, consists of two friends, Aaron (Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan), who attempt to invent a number of different profitable and marketable products in their free time with colleagues. While experimenting with a device, the intended effect of which was to counter the pull of gravity, they inadvertently discover a means by which they can travel back in time. The film’s applicable tagline asks, “If you always want what you can’t have, what do you want when you can have anything?” and focuses on this ethical issue, toying tremendously with the polarity of the protagonists and the choices they are tempted to make.
The film’s pace naturally speeds up and the viewer’s grasp on the plot is loosened in order to mimic the sensibilities of the characters. This effect succeeds, intimating the circumstances of the characters and the confusion by which their lives have been consumed, once again conveying the true talent of Carruth as a director. The film can be considered a great victory that effectively establishes a parallel between character development and directorial ingenuity, especially when every aspect of this dichotomy is controlled by one individual.
“Primer” opens in Washington, D.C. Oct. 15.