Primer is one of the few films that have me caught in the middle. That is to say, I can’t decide whether I liked it or not. The dialogue was incomprehensible at times, part in due to murmuring (thank God for subtitles), and part due to their use of scientific jargon. Moreover, the timeline was quite hard to keep track of, and the time-travel process was difficult to understand without the aid of online references. Visually speaking, the quality of the film is on the average side, but one can’t blame the filmmakers knowing that they had a low budget to work with. However, it is for the same reason (the low budget) that I can appreciate the film to a certain degree. What I do admire is the filmmakers’ ballsiness for creating a science-fiction film on such a low budget. Not that it hasn’t been done before. La Jetee, a science-fiction “photo-novel” was made all the way back in the sixties, and its filmmaker only used still photographs. But sci-fi films have changed quite a bit since that time. Whenever I hear the phrase sci-fi, I automatically think of films along the lines of Star Trek, The Matrix, Iron Man, Terminator, and the like. Sure there’s a fictional scientific element in all of them, but at some point I do expect things to blow-the-hell-up.
Primer doesn’t have the special effects of Star Trek, the awesome fight scenes in The Matrix, or the absolutely kick-ass lab of Tony Stark. What Primer does have is a garage, a storage room, a “time-travel” device that looks like it was assembled by a toddler, and….yeah, that’s about it. The funny thing is, even without all these fancy quirks, it doesn’t make for a bad film. Yes, the story may be quite incoherent and fragmented at times, but I do admire its unique form of time-travel. Usually, in sci-fi films, the devices they utilize are very shiny and expensive looking. Actually, any device in a well-budgeted sci-fi film is shiny and expensive looking. But like I said earlier, the device in Primer is a stupid looking box that somehow creates alternate timelines. The thing I liked most about this method of time-travel is that it created alternate futures, and subsequently – innumerable possibilities and outcomes. The best part was that the two main characters weren’t fully aware at first of what was happening, and could not predict the unintended outcomes or what made them come about in the first place. And just like me, they couldn’t understand what the hell that machine was doing, and how it did it (how does it feel now, suckers?).
Although Primer lacked all the fancy gizmos and visual eye-candy of mainstream sci-fi films, it did possess some important similarities. Thinking back on what I have seen, I can’t help thinking of one of my favorite time-travel films of all time – Back to the Future. When Marty McFly accidentally travels back into 1955, his actions somewhat jeopardize his original timeline. But as Marty devises a way to get back to 1985, he realizes that he has a limited opportunity to create a better life for himself. The same thing happens in Primer, only a lot faster. The characters realize they’ve stumbled on something more than a way back through time – they now have the capacity, the power to make their lives a whole lot better. And by “better,” I mean “richer.”
However, as mentioned earlier, their constant use of the machine results in multiple unintended outcomes and the eventual distrust of one another. The film doesn’t have the same rosy ending as Back to the Future, and rightfully so. Given that kind of power, I wonder if I would do anything differently. Would I be like Spiderman and “use that great power with great responsibility?” Would I step up to the plate and harness it for the betterment of mankind?
I’d find a way to make so many SHITLOADS of money that I’d be wiping my @$$ with dollar bills. Altruists are a rare breed, and many of us are still barbaric at heart.
If you think we’ve evolved, think again.