johnlink ranks PRIMER (2004)

After a series of light fare over the first week of May, I decided to get my hands dirty a little bit and dig into a really solid film. PRIMER is an independent science-fiction drama/suspense flick which is insanely brilliant, and requires a ton of effort from its viewer. If you like heady, smart film and you haven’t seen this, go see it before making the jump below. There are plenty of SPOILERS to be had in this ranking, and this film is one to be experienced without knowing much about it.

I watched PRIMER (2004) on 5.9.10. It was my second viewing of the film. TRAILER HERE

At the bottom of this review will be two links. One is to a map of the supposed time line of PRIMER, and the other is a scholarly article written by a graduate film student trying to figure his way through this film. This is a movie which requires multiple viewings in order to get every piece of it out of shadow. And even then, the characters are not always reliable since they lie to each other (and themselves, so to speak) throughout the movie. My ranking here will not try to dissect the entire narrative. Instead, I’m basing this review on watching the film for the first time in several years.

You can’t get up and go the bathroom during this movie (well, I guess you can if you pause it). You can’t carry on other conversations and then get back into it. This film demands your rapt attention from beginning to end. Much of import is said quickly, at low volume, and without telegraphing its own importance. If I have a knock on this film, it is that the sound editing sometimes makes us work too hard. I have no problem with the conversational nature of the dialogue or with the speed at which the information comes. But there are some moments which are physically hard to hear.

This film is written by, directed by, composed by, edited by, and starring Shane Carruth. He has, according to IMDB, not done anything in the movie business before or since. In many ways this newness shows, mostly for the better. While basic film story-telling is followed, Carruth doesn’t feel like he has to hold our hand and guide us. In fact much is done intentionally to confuse us. There is a David Lynch style to the filmmaking which keeps a full grasp of reality just out of reach.

This may be the most dense 77 minute film of all time. Nothing is wasted, nothing is unimportant. A man goes comatose because of a time-traveling paradox. It is not explained as such, you just have to understand it. Time-travel works backwards but not forwards. Multiple time machines (and then a time machine within a time machine) allows multiple versions of the same person to be walking around. There is often no hint as to which version we are seeing, or how many versions there actually are.

I remember thinking this movie was brilliant the first time I saw it, and that I thought I had it all figured. Watching it again, I realized I was correct regarding its brilliance, but wrong on thinking I had it all figured. For one, I realized I made the assumption that there were less than five of each of the leads. I am now of the opinion that Aaron has at least twenty doubles. I don’t think it is hyperbole when the idea that he tried to fix the party that many times is mentioned. Part of the mistake is thinking that the narrator is omniscient. He is not. He is one of many, and knows more than some but less than others. Which is the double in the end? And how many are thinking the way he is in inventing a new machine? The questions this film presents vastly outweighs the answers. And I kind of love it for doing that.

The acting is solid if not spectacular. These guys feel natural, but some of the heavy stuff doesn’t land fully at the end for me. The writing doesn’t let up, and it is written by a much smarter man than me. I do like that the science isn’t afraid to be sciency (I just made that word up). Not everything is explained. Heck, I don’t know what they are even trying to make when they invent the time machine, and I don’t think it matters.

The music and cinematography are both effective, though neither is earth-shattering enough to earn a bonus point. Really, all the work that Shane Carruth does on this film is workmanlike. His best contributions are the script and his direction. I, for one, really hope this is not his last contribution to film.

The article I mentioned above can be found here. The map can be found here. Both are informative and interesting, and perhaps not perfect.


FILM: 8; MOVIE: 8; ACTING: 7; WRITING: 9 (What is this?)

8+8+7+9+0= 32


~ by johnlink00 on May 10, 2010.

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