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 hed 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.
Thats 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
Shane Carruth wrote the script, directed, shot and edited the
film, composed the score, and even plays one of the lead roles.
Thats one way to get the most out of your few dollars.
The real question is - what do you end up with. And Im
happy to say, more than enough. But Id 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. Ive
seen it twice all the way through, and parts of it a third time.
And I admit, I havent figured it all out, yet. But that
shouldnt 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
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? Its a question weve all
imagined having to answer. Its 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 Primers 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, (Tykwers latest film) so much
that hed seen it five times.
Run, Lola, Run may be even more related to issues that Carruths
protagonists find themselves confronting. In any case, Tom Tykwers
considerations of fate, destiny and chance are closer to Shane
Carruths central themes than whatever ideas percolate
through David Lynchs Mulholland Drive.
I know Ive 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 horses 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 youre looking for slick and polished, forget Primer.
If youre 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, Primers for you. For KUSPs Film Gang,
this is Dennis Morton.