Primer (2004)
January 9, 2023 10:33 AM - Subscribe

Intellectual engineers Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) build and sell error-checking technology with the help of their friends Robert (Casey Gooden) and Phillip (Anand Upadhyaya). But when Aaron and Abe accidentally invent what they think is a time machine, Abe builds a version capable of transporting a human and puts the device to the test. As the two friends obsess over their creation, they discover the dark consequences of their actions.

Written, directed, produced, and edited by Shane Carruth.

73% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently available for digital rental in the US. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (12 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Getting this out of the way: Shane Carruth is not a great human being.

Anyway, this is a terrific little gem of a movie.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:33 AM on January 9, 2023

I hadn't tracked Carruth well enough to have noticed that. That's unfortunate.

I saw this movie *completely* cold at the Boston Sci-Fi marathon years back - I think it was a few months before the movie was officially released. The description blurb for it in the marathon program mentioned time travel, maybe? But was otherwise vague. I really enjoyed the movie and I immediately wished I could watch it again to see what parts of it held together.

I am convinced that there is a loop that happened that we never see in the movie where something bad happens at the party.

Also, requisite XKCD strip about Primer's narrative path.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:53 AM on January 9, 2023 [2 favorites]

I also hadn't heard about Carruth's abuse.

I really liked this, although confess to not totally getting the thread. Similarly his followup, Upstream Color, which I think wasn't so much a movie as an aesthetic.
posted by Gorgik at 12:28 PM on January 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

Loved Primer and have seen it multiple times. It was actually one of my inspirations for becoming a serious photography after I read that Carruth learned still photography before he taught himself to be a filmmaker. I'm not sure if there's really any rational way to make sense of the narrative but the visual compositions and his use of color are amazing. I wish he hadn't turned out to be such a garbage human being because he really had a unique vision.
posted by octothorpe at 2:08 PM on January 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

I love this movie, one of my favorite sci fi movies, incredibly inventive. On the strength of this movie I suggested watching Upstream Color to my girlfriend and that movie lives in notoriety in my relationship as evidence of my apparently terrible taste for having picked it, but in my defense, I absolutely hated it, I found it nonsensical, fake-deep and reeking of misogyny. It seems hyperbolic but is accurate to say that learning Carruth has a history of violence against women does not surprise me since seeing that movie. But back to Primer, I just thought it was exceptionally creative and a great example of a low-tech low-budget production doing super exciting stuff. I should watch again but I guess I won't since I don't want to contribute to this dude financially now I guess.
posted by latkes at 2:50 PM on January 9, 2023 [4 favorites]

Primer was released 19 years ago?

Fuck me.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:46 PM on January 9, 2023 [6 favorites]

I just recently rewatched this with a group of similarly inclined nerds! And we were also dismayed to learn of Carruth's terribleness - most of us were first alerted to it at that gathering as well. If it helps, maybe a path to watching with less guilt is to borrow a copy from a library?

The movie itself held up for me as well as the first time I saw it more than 10 years ago. It is even slower to get started than I had remembered but the payoff is still good.

If you are visually inclined and ready for spoilers, here is a direct link to a really detailed timeline diagram that made the events of the movie make as much sense to me as possible. This explainer video was also helpful to many in our group.

I agree there had to be at least one loop we didn't see where something really bad happened at the party or shortly after it - it's the most reasonable way to explain how Granger gets involved. Some of the dialogue and just the general state of Abe and Aaron suggests that there may in fact have been many repeats offscreen.
posted by sigmagalator at 7:47 PM on January 9, 2023 [3 favorites]

Watch this clip and pay attention to the camerawork, especially the focus, and the blocking of the two actors. It's all just so well planned and executed and makes a very simple scene of two boring guys in a garage so much more visually interesting.
posted by octothorpe at 5:18 AM on January 10, 2023

I went with my future spouse when it first came out and she still hasn't forgiven me for it. Still married me, but continues to remind me whenever it comes up.
posted by roue at 6:40 PM on January 10, 2023

I’m going to have to take a long look at that big timeline. Thanks! But those dates, I thought it was set during March Madness?
posted by rmd1023 at 8:34 PM on January 11, 2023

Yeah I don't know why the timeline chose September, the movie does pretty clearly use March Madness as the excuse for Aaron to have the earpiece on the bench. The relative dates and times mostly made sense though!
posted by sigmagalator at 11:30 PM on January 11, 2023

There is an interesting bit of timing with this movie. It was probably one of the last films of this production level to be filmed. This was right around the time that digital video cameras were coming into their own. If some young filmmaker wanted to make a movie like this just a few years later, they almost certainly would have shot it digitally.
posted by Hatashran at 1:16 PM on January 13, 2023 [2 favorites]

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