Movie Review: Primer (2004)

Thumbs down for Primer (2004), a science-fiction time travel film. This might suprise people who know me (as it suprised me) as this film has lots of attributes I normally like: hard sf, cerebral, independantly made.

It's been a while since I've seen this film, and I've avoided a review because I couldn't quite figure out why I didn't like it (I'm waiting to review "Borat!" for the same reason). Fundamentally it's because I didn't like the characters. They are too mumbly-clever. They are not circumspect enough. They are embedded in this gedanken-experiment and never look up from the problems assigned to them in their cubicles. They are walking, talking corporate cogs (there's that word again) set to spin in a different sort of box.

This image is reenforced by the omnipresent shirts and ties. That, although friends, the two principle characters are primarily related through commercial relationship. Is it any wonder that this incredible device rips through their already thread-bare relationship and pokes holes in their paper-thin personalities?

I listend to some of the director's commentary to get a better handle on what was intended with this film. Shane Carruth wrote (and directed) this picture to explore how special circumstances can occastion the disintegration of trust between friends. I don't know why he picked garage-inventors, people who, to be frank, don't have a great reputation for trusting others to begin with, and who's motivation is even more greed-based than most. Good heavens, you could strain that sort of relationship by raising the price of gas and have one partner feel resentful that the lab isn't in *his* garage.

I suppose too that there is a lack of range-of-emotion that matches the flat colors of the picture. Cerebral tension and anxiety displace any oppurtunity to display warmer emotion. One of the main characters, Aaron, has a wife and kid who we see once. We never see the effect of increasing strain and anxiety on that relationship.

There is a strong message here, though, and that is: Leave well enough alone! Even if you have the power to do something, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.

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