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Primer
Reviewed by Dennis Morton
Review Date: 10
.19.04


My first question to Shane Carruth was: how do you pronounce the name of your film? Primer, he said, (with a long I). But quickly added that he’d intended it to be pronounced primer, as in "a textbook giving the first principles of any subject". But so many people pronounced it primer, like the base coat of paint, that he relented and
now calls it Primer himself.

That’s probably one of the few capitulations to popular tastes that Carruth made while
putting Primer together. There were other accommodations. But they were caused by budgetary constraints. Primer was made for $7,000.

Shane Carruth wrote the script, directed, shot and edited the film, composed the score, and even plays one of the lead roles. That’s one way to get the most out of your few dollars.
The real question is - what do you end up with. And I’m happy to say, more than enough. But I’d offer a caveat to those looking for a typical night out at the movies.

Primer is perplexing. While one dose will yield an ample plateful of ethical conundrums
and intellectual challenges, it will take multiple exposures to begin to fathom the intricacies of the narrative. I’ve seen it twice all the way through, and parts of it a third time. And I admit, I haven’t figured it all out, yet. But that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the film. Though Primer is about a science experiment that yields unexpected and astonishing results, the heart of the film is a moral
question.

If you woke up one day and found that you had the ability to alter the outcome of a series of events, how would you wield this almost godlike power? It’s a question we’ve all imagined having to answer. It’s a situation most of us would like to find ourselves in.
For Aaron and Abe, the protagonists of Primer, it becomes an all-consuming consideration. Their lives become exponentially more complex as they grapple with the mind-boggling implications of their invention.

Critics keep mentioning Mulholland Drive and Memento in an attempt to prepare us for Primer’s challenges, and to be sure, there are similarities. But I asked Carruth if he was familiar with the work of the German director Tom Tykwer. And his response was that he loved Heaven, (Tykwer’s latest film) so much that he’d seen it five times.

Run, Lola, Run may be even more related to issues that Carruth’s protagonists find themselves confronting. In any case, Tom Tykwer’s considerations of fate, destiny and chance are closer to Shane Carruth’s central themes than whatever ideas percolate through David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

I know I’ve withheld from you most of the details about Primer. But here are a few scenes to be on the lookout for. When Abe approaches "the box" with a tape gun, aiming to minimize leaks, I have it on the best authority that we can safely consider that moment as a metaphor. Look also for a brief scene in which a list of proscriptions appears. And, this too from the horse’s mouth - if you want to know the identity of the narrative voice, you can find it in the last five minutes of the film.

If you’re looking for slick and polished, forget Primer. If you’re looking for car chases and fisticuffs and sultry scenes of seduction, forget Primer. But if you want to see what one driven and very bright man with $7,000 and a good idea can accomplish, Primer’s for you. For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.