Monday, May 13, 2013

Netflix Streaming Review - Primer

The most time-travely movie in the history of time-travely movies
"You're going to love these chicks dude.  Just seriously, don't drop the nitrate."
Remember that part in Looper when JGL and Bruce Willy meet up for the first time and JGL's all like, "Yo, so what's the deal with time travel, bro?  Like, ain't there paradoxes and sh*t?"  And then Bruce Willy's smacks him and is like, "Hey dummy, do you have any damn clue how long it would take us to spend discussing the implications of time travel??  Now get outta here, I got some toddlers to pop."  I really liked that exchange because it was pretty much Rian Johnson winking at the audience and saying, "Hey, listen, we know a bunch of this time travel sh*t probably won't make sense.  We know.  But that's not really the point of the movie."  Well, that nonsensical conversation that Willis alludes to?  Yeah, Primer is pretty much that movie.

A friend recommended Primer to me a few weeks ago and after I saw it I pretty much told him I had no clue what I had just witnessed, but that for whatever reason I really liked.  He had the same response and, from what I've gathered from internet reaction to both this and Upstream Color, that seems to be how everyone reacts to Shane Carruth's work.  Which is pretty cool as the guy is the ultimate auteur, writing, directing, starring in, editing and distributing his films.  I think he may even compose and perform the music.  And all for super cheap (Primer had a budget of $7,000)  Makes starting a movie blog where one makes one, maybe two posts a week pretty lame.  Okay, yeah, it was pretty lame to begin with.  But back to the film.

Primer is short at an hour and fifteen minutes, but it doesn't feel short by any stretch.  In fact, it's a bit exhausting.  The film centers around two engineers who stumble upon creating a machine that allows them to travel back in time over short increments of time (I think.  Sh*t, I'm already confused again).  I'm not going to get into details beyond that because I don't want to kill the few brain cells I have left after a near decade of irresponsible drinking, but spoiler alert, it gets pretty f*cking trippy.  Paradoxes upon paradoxes are explored to the point where it's pretty much impossible to follow any sort of coherent storyline.

And ultimately, I think this what I liked so much about Primer.  Remember, it's pretty much encoded in our being to think of time as a linear function.  From a geometrical perspective, look at it like this:  We are born on Point A and die on Point B, and our life is measured by the line stretched between those two points.  There is no up or down or side to side.  We can look back on our past or forward to our future but nothing beyond that.  Of course time is infinitely (literally) more complex than that (seriously, just read the Wikipedia article "The Philosophy of Space and Time".  Good beach read).  

Primer fully acknowledges our human limitations and chooses to explore this concept anyway.  And yet by doing so through a traditional narrative, the film is doomed to spinoff into an inevitable nonsensical oblivion.  And it does.  Unlike Johnson who gave us a wink in Looper, by the end of the Primer it felt like Carruth just turned around to give us a shrug, as if saying, "Hey man, I tried."  But that is the point.  Carruth's brilliance and uniqueness as a storyteller is his ability to convey the painfully obvious through the painfully complicated.

Grade - B+

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