Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The little time machine that could

I'm not usually a fan of stories that involve time travel, whether they're sci-fi novels, movies, or comic books. To me, many of these narratives seem to collapse under their own weight at the end or somehow break a rule that was established earlier in the story. That's not to say it hasn't been done well (the "Terminator" flicks) or made into something fun (the first Back to the Future). And if any of you have a favorite example or two that my brain just isn't recalling, I'd love to hear about it.

I'd like to add a movie of my own to that list: Primer. It was so refreshing to have a movie scratch an itch in your brain, rather than just numb it. Working on a seriously indie budget, Primer concentrates more on story and character development than glossy special effects or outlandish premises.

Evil villain: I hate Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, so we're going to go back in time and prevent the guy with chocolate from colliding with the guy with peanut butter. And from then on, we'll live in a world with only plain chocolate bars - which is the way it should be! Bwahaha!

Evil villain's underling: Bwahahahahaha!!

Villain and underling together: Bwaaaahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!

Evil villain's underling: But... but... if you do that, we'll never have Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Cup ice cream!

Evil villain: What? Nooooooooooooooooooooo! What have I done? WHAT! HAVE! I! DONE!

(© 2005 Ian Casselberry, by the way. Don't even think of stealing this gold.)

If you haven't heard of it, Primer is about two guys who almost accidentally create a time machine in their garage, but it keeps the science-fictional premise under the surface (though there's some technical jargon in the dialogue), concerning itself instead with how power can affect friendships, how it can corrupt people who suddenly have the power to influence the direction of their lives. It tries to challenge the audience by making you question what you just watched. I don't know how you couldn't want to discuss the film after seeing it. (Where's Mis Hooz and a bar or coffee shop when I need them?)

And even though the story seems to give you everything you need, it definitely rewards multiple viewings. Moments and characters that seemed harmless or insignificant the first time around suddenly become rather important when the whole story reveals itself. I wanted to watch the thing again as soon as I was done with it. (Unfortunately, Shane Carruth's director commentary on the DVD is a bit of a snoozer, unless you're a film school junkie wondering what film stock he used, how he recorded sound, what type of lighting he used, etc., etc. I wanted more story details.)

If I've piqued your curiosity or you've already seen Primer, here's a link to an interview with Carruth.

Also, here are three different attempts to explain the different timelines established in the movie, resulting from the lead characters' actions.

And if you're curious what another blog thinks of it, check out's thoughts.

You will thank me later.