Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Film Review - 'Primer'

Primer may be one of the most frustrating films I have ever willingly sat through - yet, at the same time, it is a film which manages to provide one of the most convincing portrayals of time travel that I have ever seen. I'm not ashamed to admit that I had a tough time following the film's plot the first time through, though.

Primer is a film which concerns itself with fully exploring the complexities of time travel - a concept which, as any fan of science fiction would already know, can serve as the basis for a great deal of confusion. Even the simplest stories, after all, will eventually find themselves having to take on classic science fiction concept of the 'time travel paradox' - with the various ways in which this particular issue can be approached, and resolved, ranging light and almost flippant (Marty McFly's photo with the slowly disappearing family members, for example) to the very serious. Primer is a film which leans heavily toward the more serious side of the scale - as it seems to revel in exploring the complex and tangled mess created by its protagonists, while challenging the audience to make sense of everything that takes place.

As the film opens, we are introduced to Abe and Aaron - engineers who aspire to, one day, go into business together, and who have taken to tinkering with their own inventions in their spare time. Their plans are relatively simple, though not necessarily easy - to invent something that they can market themselves, as the basis for their new business. It is through this constant process of tinkering and experimentation that the pair soon come to realise that they may have, inadvertently, built something that neither believed was possible - a working time machine. Their latest device, it seems, possesses the strange ability to create something of a stable time loop - allowing anything placed within the box to slowly travel back and forth in time, though only as far back as the moment in which the device was first switched on.

As you might expect, the pair soon begin to speculate on the potential of their new invention - abandoning all of their other projects, in order to focus their efforts on their new discovery. By building a larger copy of their first prototype, complete with a box large enough to hold a person, the pair soon realise that they have, essentially, built themselves a fully functional time machine - and, it is from here that things begin to get out of hand. Learning the rules and limitations of their machine (primarily, that journeys into the past take place in 'real time' - one minute into the past for each minute in the box), the pair soon turn their attention to the perfectly understandable goal of making money - settling on playing the stock market as the safest way to do so.

Things seem to be going well for the pair, at first - but, of course, the constant temptation to use the device for their own ends begins to wear on each of them, and the two men soon find their friendship to be severely tested. From there, things begin to spiral out of control - as travellers from different time-lines begin to intersect with each other, creating entirely new time-lines and even greater confusion.

As you might have gathered, Primer is a very interesting film. It was actually something of a pet project for its creator, Shane Carruth (who wrote, directed, and also stars in the film). The entire film was actually completed on a budget of only $7,000 - though, as impressive a feat as that may seem, there are definitely times film's budget proves to be a detriment. Performances given by the cast range from poor to adequate, but never a level higher than that - and, the script is often let down by lines of forced and stilted dialogue. The film's seemingly deliberate unwillingness to simplify things for the audience, by emphasising complex jargon over simplified explanations, also began to feel like negative point, to me (though, of course, mileage may vary, on this point) - as it begins to feel as though the film is deliberately trying to over-complicated its central plot, and confuse the audience. But, of course, your own mileage may vary on this point - as, given the tendency toward overt hand-holding in other films, some may find the complexity of Primer to be a refreshing change of pace.

Primer is a film that you are likely to either love or hate. it's a slow-moving, dialogue-heavy, sort of film that plays out almost like a puzzle for the viewer to solve - but, which is often let down by some underwhelming performances from its amateur cast. It is dense, frustratingly non-linear, and never in any real hurry to explain itself to its audience - both to its credit, and its occasional detriment. In short, it is an interesting film, rather than a great one - something that any fan of science fiction should be willing to seek out. Although, whether you actually enjoy the experience of watching it is another matter, entirely.

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