Tuesday, November 18, 2008

PRIMER (Shane Carruth, 2004, USA) Aaron and Abe betray themselves as they become stuck in ever increasingly complex causality loops and moral instability. After inadvertently inventing a device that allows limited retrograde time travel, this tempestuous secret creates a storm of personal conflict that drives a bitter wedge of jealousy and deceit between them…and their doppelgangers. The dialogue is laden with techno-babble, which is just believable enough to create an air of realism; the innocuous aluminum box the next great advance in human history…but bastardized by these two conniving inventors for personal gain. The low budget film creates a ground loop, a ubiquitous hum that reverberates throughout the narrative, with stark lighting and oblique camera angles that focus upon the characters without intrusive CGI effects. As they become successful enough to make money in the stock market (and presumably betting on sports), they begin to tamper with their own lives, to somehow fool their counterparts and those around them. This is where the movie is interesting but also its minor fault: it is very believable that Aaron and Abe use the invention selfishly but this numbs our sympathetic impulses for their self-created dilemma. They begin to double and triple cross each other until Aaron decides to leave the country: he builds a giant machine that is insinuated to allow unimpeded time travel. Aaron’s prescient narration leads me to believe that he has already created his machine; the film is told in retrospect as he tampers with reality and has already gone back into time to change the past, so that only he becomes the ultimate benefactor. The structure is composed of flash-forwards and flashbacks but it’s difficult to differentiate between the two as time loops and they begin to affect the reality around them. Director and writer Shane Carruth has created an intelligent and fascinating science fiction film that remains grounded in our present reality and asks…what if? (B+)

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