Primer (2004)
Primer (2004)

Genre: Sci-Fi Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 17 min.

Release Date: October 8th, 2004 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Shane Carruth Actors: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, Carrie Crawford, Samantha Thomson




uiet basement hackers seem to be the primary patrons of a small garage-based business between four young men, who hope to grow their company, Emiba, into something more. The owners bicker and complain about the amount of time they’ve put into it and about its potential for the future. When Phillip (Anand Upadhyaya) and Robert (Casey Gooden) prove to be less essential to the outfit, they’re slowly weeded out from further advancements. Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abram “Abe” Terger (David Sullivan), however, become focused on a new creation that can be constructed and operated by just the two of them. They cannibalize any machine they can get ahold of (cars, refrigerators) to build a device housed in a metal box (approximately the size of a mini-fridge) that hums. It’s hooked up to two car batteries but somehow stores power even when they’re removed.

Months later, after numerous social gatherings – with the hopes of attaining additional funding from a man named Thomas Granger (Chip Carruth) – they realize they still don’t have solid answers as to what the invention is capable of. There is obvious value to the thing, but what is the practical application? The next step is to build a larger model, which is erected inside a U-Haul storage locker. Abe sets everything up and, after experimenting with himself, duplicates his experience with Aaron. Is it an incubator for fungus? Is it simple “Mechanics and Heat 101” science? Could they publish their findings? Is it a time machine?

Cryptic, scientific jargon is used to recapitulate the construction of something inconceivable – something general audiences clearly aren’t intended to digest with any understandable explanations. References to NASA and diagrams of other similar concepts are made to indicate the complexness and technological superiority of their brainchild. Oddly, the film prolongs the revealing of what the device does for nearly 45 minutes, hinting at and beating around the bush before it becomes evident that they’re toying with time travel. The approach to time travel remains obscured for even longer, stubbornly divulging details as to multiple timelines, physical effects, and the duration of their trips.

There are also plenty of secrets kept from one another, leading to disastrous surprises. “Primer” examines rarer time travel elements such as destiny, causality, paradoxes, loss of consciousness and retention of memories, and repeating events and revisions, as well as the more obvious abuses of knowing the future – such as playing the stock market or betting on sports games (like “Back to the Future Part II”). They also concern themselves with how to inform Robert’s wife Kara (Carrie Crawford) of the unfathomable influx of money. In “Primer’s” world, there are endless “doubles” causing trouble, plotting betrayal, building additional machines, generating ulterior motives, and forcing everything to go absolutely not according to plan. A monotonic narrator who reveals his involvement toward the conclusion adds extra intricacies, while simple but effectively haunting piano music presides over the consternating developments. But, ultimately, the storytelling is so confusing, and the duplicates of Abe and Aaron and the multiple timelines are so numerous, that sorting out what exactly unfolds saps all the entertainment value.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10