Have you ever: Come out of a movie and had absolutely no idea what happened? I thought I had. It took me about four tries with Eraserhead before I figured out enough of it to talk to people about it. I had to watch a couple experimental films when I was at university that left me feeling like I completely missed something. I thought my brain had been ass-fucked a number of times by various ambiguous movies and books (The Soft Machine, anyone?), but then again, I hadn’t yet seen Primer.
And in that way, this movie is almost impossible to review. How can I possibly recommend people see something that I don’t understand? I don’t really know. I know that I really liked the look of the movie. I know the characters were great; I know one of them fucks the other one over, but I’m not really sure how. And I know that for being made on a budget of roughly a thousand dollars, it’s amazingly well done. But what the hell happens?
Here’s what I was able to gather: There’s initially four guys trying to make something. I’m not really sure what. It could be an anti-gravity machine, it could be some kind of new form of energy? I didn’t really catch it, and the super-technical dialogue did often go over my head (but I’m learning, I swear!). Anyways, so they make something, and they’re doing it entirely for the money. They have no altruistic motive. They have no desire to help anybody, leave their mark on the world, but they want to make lots of money. There’s a lot of talk about the market and profits early on, I know that much.
Now, somewhere along the way, they accidentally discover time travel. Two of the guys are left out of the loop. The other two decide to use this machine to look ahead at stocks, and then come back and invest. But there’s some problems with creating doubles. At some point, there will be two of each of them. So the originals have to go to a hotel so they don’t run into themselves, trying as best as they can to avoid a universe-shattering paradox. The originals essentially lose their existence, as time ends up having a sort of loop tied in it at one point where the original’s only purpose is to go into this time travel box, come out, and then go back in ad infinitum.
From then on, I’m completely lost. There’s been a comment made from one reviewer that “Anyone who claims to understand this movie on the first go is either a savant or a liar.” If you ask me, it seems more likely that the person be a liar. And don’t think I don’t know what you’re thinking: You’re thinking “Shit, it can’t be that hard. I’ll bet I can understand it on the first go.” You’re kidding yourself. It won’t happen. Try it, but it won’t happen.
Which, again, brings me back to my original point. How is it that I can recommend someone watch this movie, when I myself don’t even know what it is? On the one hand, if you’ve read some of my other reviews (whoever the hell you are), you’ll know that I like something that dicks with my brain. I also like it when people are put in a situation that makes them uncomfortable. But, then again, while Primer will certainly do that, is it any good?
I think so. If any of you have ever read Stephen King’s book On Writing, you might remember a passage when he says that we’ve spent all of this time trying to figure out if telepathy’s possible, when it was right in front of us the entire time in the form of literature. The words communicate to us by directly implanting images in our brain. Now, generally this is not the case for movies. After all, we are not creating images in our brains, we are looking right at them. That’s the nature of the medium. But I do believe that there is some truth that maybe film is telepathic as well. (Keep in mind, I’m not talking about any sort of mystical, supernatural telepathy, which is impossible, I’m referring to the metaphorical.) Particularly in the case of Primer, the movie exudes an aura of intelligence, sophistication, that it knows something we don’t. It becomes apparent as the movie goes on, and you’re able to grasp tiny bits of reason from it, that multiple viewings will do this movie justice, that there is more to this movie than ambiguity.
But then again, as I write this, I realize I’m not really saying anything. I’m sure you can tell that I’m really grasping for straws here, talking about the telepathy of film and Stephen King and some other bullshit: All I know is, the movie feels cool. It feels like if I try really hard I can understand it, and that by understanding it I can come out of it with something important. That if I really examine the relationship between these two characters, and I can figure out what happens to their relationship, I can learn something about betrayal or greed, assuming that’s the cause of the deterioration. I assume it’s the cause, but that’s only because I’m also assuming that when they talk about money and the market at the beginning that it was foreshadowing. I could be way off. There’s only way to tell, really, and that’s by going in deep and watching the movie a few more times. So while I can’t really tell you why I think you should watch this movie (whoever the fuck you are), maybe you should just take my word for it. It’s a hell of a flick, dudes. Call me after you’ve seen it for the twentieth time and we’ll see how far we’ve gotten.