Yeah if you’re on the internet, you’ve probably heard about the movie Primer, a rather imaginative and unique time travel movie. I definitely recommend it to nearly everyone. That a movie made in a small town for only $7,000 shows more imagination, creativity and heart than anything put out by Hollywood (save for something like Inception) is… depressing, yet hopeful.
There were a few writing mistakes that bugged me and kept this from earning a full 5 score. Discussion of these mistakes below for the spoiler averse.
4 and a half things bugged me here (the 4th one may be intentional, that’s why I count it only for half).
- The genius (no sarcasm) behind the movie says in his commentary, that the movie is told from “Abe’s perspective”. All well and good, but then who is the phone call to? A framing device of the movie is a phone call from an Arron to someone else. For the writer’s goals to remain intact, the Arron must be talking (or leaving a message) to Abe. But a few lines don’t make sense if he’s talking to Abe – the whole thing fits better as a conversation from 1 Arron to another. But again, that violates the writer’s stated intention.
- During the Granger incident, we get a brief flash of Abe running through an alley. Up until now, the entire story has been told linearly from a certain point of view (Abe’s obviously). So.. what was the deal with that? If it was a brief preview of the upcoming seconds, that violates the style of the movie up to that point. But if it was another Abe running, why did we see him? The Abe whose perspective we’re following didn’t see him. So it’s a violation from that perspective too.
- The party and stuff just bugged me. Every time I watched the movie I kept thinking that Abe was the married one, Arron was the one with the girlfriend because everything plays out like that. The feel of that set-up bugged me. I wish they had done less (if anything) related to the main characters’ romantic relationships and more with the other two friends they grew apart from. Those are characters we (the audience) know and are invested in. As an audience, we find the party to be too abstract to connect with, to the point that Arron’s efforts around it seem less megalomaniac and more silly.
- And the big one… the Granger incident.
Ok, I have no idea with the concept of this incident. The idea of the audience having to deal with a mystery that can’t be answered because the characters can never answer it works fine – I think it’s a nice touch. The issue is the style of the scene – it’s almost entirely one that tells us something, instead of showing it, and since this is the most important event in the whole movie. Why does it fail?
At the beginning of the movie, the audience is rather lost. Even those of us with technical knowledge don’t fully grasp what’s going on and all the in-jokes and references the characters are making. But that’s ok – we’re learning, we’re being immersed in this world. The change comes when the box is made.
The moment the box is made, the audience and the characters “sync”. At that moment, the audience is fully immersed. Neither we nor the characters know what is going on, we’re both learning about what’s happening together – simultaneously (sort of – obviously at the end it’s revealed that’s not quite true, but the illusion of this beginning is that the audience and characters are sync’d in this manner). From here on out, we know everything the characters know.
Until Mr Granger.
This is another point where the characters actually know more than the audience. They see him, they know this guy, we the audience have no idea who he is nor would we think anything of passing him in the dark. It would have worked a lot better had the audience seen the two characters run into Granger and given us a chance to see him (I think when they are outside the building and Arron gets the cell phone call was the best spot). Then later the evening, give a close up where the audience can tell that it’s Granger and identify that he’s definitely gone through more time than when we last saw him. Without this little inclusion of the audience, for all we know the guys were mistaken. It wasn’t Granger, just some random hobo with health trouble they ran into (he just looked a little like the guy). That’s what needs to be fix about this movie more than anything: show the audience that something is wrong, don’t just have the characters tell us something is wrong.
Now the part that does bug me, but I think Shane might have done intentionally. At the end it seems that Abe wants to stay behind to prevent the time machine from being built. However, it seems that there’s no way for the failsafe machine to go back far enough to prevent this. Why? Here’s a bit from the subtitles.
1004 I’m staying here.
1006 they’ll be building their own boxes in another day.
1007 And yours already knows what they’ve built.
1008 You’re not going to be able to watch them forever.
1009 “the box Abe is building won’t work.”
1010 “He’s got it wired wrong.”
1011 “And if they fix that…”
1012 “I’ll start actually taking pieces out of it. It’s just a gimmick.”
1013 “It doesn’t work anymore.”
1014 “Your double will say they have to move on to something else.”
1015 And mine will agree. they’re friends.
How could Abe have gone back in time to before they built their own boxes? When was the failsafe box first invented and switched on? Even if you ignore the question of whether they had performed a live test or not (excluding the watch & weeble), in the original timeline, the failsafe box could never have been turned on before Abe & Arron knew what it did and how it worked. And if I knew beyond a doubt (knew well enough to put time & energy into creating a failsafe box) that I had invented a time machine, only to later see the machine start malfunctioning in a way I know it shouldn’t (because I’ve already constructed and turned on a failsafe) – I think my first instinct would be that a time-traveler of some kind is interfering with me work. To quote Inception:
What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere.
The idea is already between them well enough, that Abe cannot win in his goal.
But like I said, I think that was part of Shane’s plan. A moral that the genie cannot go back inside the bottle. Not even with time travel.