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United Kingdom Region Pick: Primer (2004)


To describe the film Primer as ‘mind-bending’ could be construed as something of an understatement. Essentially a time travel movie, this is a film that makes no concessions for its audience – it takes off running from the first reel and does not stop until the end credits roll. It’s on you to keep up. But, that’s not to say that it’s a difficult film. On the contrary, it is highly enjoyable – despite having a first act filled, almost exclusively, with technical jargon. Thanks to the skill of the filmmaker and lead actor Shane Carruth (Upstream Color) however, we feel engaged with this story – even though the initial dialogue seems almost nonsensical to the layman.

It is a tale of friends, tinkering in the garage. Outside their regular day jobs, they run a side business manufacturing error-checking devices for computers. They use the profits to fund exploration of different inventions in their extremely limited spare time. Disagreeing on which path they should pursue next, two of the friends – Aaron and Abe – decide to branch out on their own and build a device designed to reduce the weight of an object. Successful in this endeavor, they accidentally discover that the objects they use to test the device experience 1,300 times the length of time that passes while the device is active.

Abe theorizes that the objects continually travel from the time the device is activated, to the time it is switched off, and back again. Some testing later, they decide to enlarge and duplicate the device to use themselves – but events take an unexpected turn when Abe reveals the presence of another Abe, moving through the other side of the time loop they have created. What follows is both a fascinating and effective time travel film, and a study in friendships and partnerships disintegrating under high stress. Without pandering to the audience in any way, Primer keeps us guessing as to actions, motivations and consequences throughout, and stays in the mind for some time after.

Made for just $7,000 with a crew of five people, Primer is an example of independent filmmaking at its finest. Taking an intriguing and original idea, Shane Carruth wrote, directed, produced, edited and scored the film, as well as acting as cinematographer and performing the lead role. It took him almost two years of post-production to achieve the final cut, which went on to take the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. If it is independent filmmaking you seek, then Primer is as sound an investment of time for you as it was for Shane Carruth.