Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Super-Quick Movie Review: Primer

I caught the movie Primer earlier this week, and like a lot of folks, I really, really liked it.  This was possible because Netflix recently (finally) introduced a feature that allows subscribers to download and watch movies offline using their mobile apps.  With this, I’ve taken a break from reading during my train-commutes home, which is how I’ve found the time to catch up on movies.

Lots of shows feature ambiguous endings.  The Sopranos, Inception, Netflix’s The OA, etc.  The OA in particular works because while I think the show makes it clear that OA herself has at least some form of paranoid mental illness, there are still elements in the story that mere mental illness cannot explain.  In each of the examples above, however, the filmmakers deliberately give viewers too little information to know definitively what they saw.  The ambiguity serves as an integral part of the story, allowing us as viewers to decide, which can be tremendously satisfying when it’s done well.  
Primer is different.  The story isn’t ambiguous so much as it’s purposefully confusing.  It’s a time-travel movie, and as with the examples above, there are a few plot points that are left intentionally unknowable.  Unlike those, however, Primer doesn’t do this to let us decide what we saw.  Instead, it’s trying to convey the same sense of paranoid confusion that the characters themselves are feeling as the movie folds back onto itself.  That the film exists around a simple premise makes this all the more satisfying and remarkable.

Essentially: our heroes create a box that allows them to travel a finite distance back in time, and wackiness ensues as they start trying to profit from their discovery while simultaneously wrestling with short-term temporal paradox.  This becomes confusing because there are only two characters, they have similar sounding names, and the movie offers very little exposition to simplify the paradox.  We as viewers are left trying to follow as closely as we can, parsing the important from the unknowable as our narrator becomes increasingly unreliable.
Good luck with that.  Primer has a reputation for being the most complicated science fiction movie ever made.  It works, though, at least in part because the mathematical explanation around the time travel theory makes sense, as do the characters’ financial shenanigans when they’re trying to run a start-up and again once they start looping back on themselves in time.  
The script is good.  It’s just weirdly convoluted and unknowable.
I enjoyed Primer tremendously.  If you like sci fi and don’t mind an intellectual challenge, I highly recommend it.  It’s remarkable for a lot of reasons, most notably because it’s an indie that the filmmakers supposedly made for just $7K.  Amazing!  And you can stream it on Netflix, probably forever.  
Check it out.

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