Readers’ Recommendations: “Primer”

primerHey everyone, it’s Friday, time for another entry in the Reader Recommendations series!

The Reader Recommendation series is intended to help me formally pursue all the great films that commenters bring up each week in discussion which I’ve never seen. If there’s a movie that comes up that I haven’t seen, but you think I should, email me @ or let me know in the comments that you’d like to participate!

MNelkinThis time up, our recommendation comes from Mark Nelkin of Beautiful Orange. Mark has recommended Shane Carruth’s “Primer”, a film that has gotten no small amount of buzz in the blogosphere, and one I’ve been waiting to check out for a while!

Click through to see what we had to say!

My questions in bold, Mark’s answers below!


1) Do you remember when you first saw the movie?

I first saw it about 6 years ago on dvd. I’d heard about it – but not what it was about. I’d heard that it was brilliant but I’m not sure that I’d ever actually read a review. So I bought the dvd, hoping to be impressed.

2) Why do you think that it’s recommendable? What do you like about it?

It’s completely unique. It’s strange, it’s sometimes completely baffling, it’s a bit creepy, it’s makes you think and then re-think and then completely reappraise. It’s amazing. When the credits rolled the first time I saw it, I just sat by myself without moving, my mouth slightly open. Just wow. Then I went straight to the menu screen and watched it all over again but this time with the director’s commentary, which is something I’d recommend that everyone do.

I love that it’s often confusing but still totally gripping. It manages this rare feat by treating it’s audience as adults, which is pretty rare – we really don’t need clichéd characters and story arcs to enjoy a film.

Oh, I also love the fact that a lot of people will hate it… that’s the kind of guy I am!

3) Is the movie underappreciated, do you think? Or does pop culture have it fairly rated?

Well, I think it’s probably about a highly regarded as it could be – it’s a cult classic and the anticipation for Carruth’s second feature (Upstream Color) proved that. The fact that there was 9 years between the two films probably helped as well! Primer was never going to be even close to the mainstream so I reckon it’s achieved as much as it could have hoped.

4) Is there any particular reason you thought I should watch it, or were you just surprised I hadn’t seen it?

I was a bit surprised that you hadn’t seen it. I think anyone really interested in films should give it a go… and persevere as long as you can! It’s supposed to be complicated and it doesn’t wait for you to catch-up – so just embrace that and go with it.

5) Have you written about the movie yourself? (Insert plug here! LOL )

Ha. I haven’t written about it – but I was going to later this month in my series of posts about ‘Stuff that inspires me’ (Blatant plug: I’ll now have to choose another film/book/artist to write about in the next post instead!

Thanks Mark, my review is below!


A team of young scientists moonlight with their own computer card business in order to fund larger inventions. However, two of the four begin to work on their own due to differences with the others. They start to work on a device intended to reduce the weight of objects. They’re unsure of the commercial applications, but are certain they can find a way to monetize it if they can get the science down. Testing their device with a Weeble, they discover that while in the device, a protein fungus grows upon it at an abnormally rapid rate. Investigating further they discover that the reason the fungus grows so rapidly is that the device is actually causing the object within to travel forward in time and then loop back, causing an accelerated passage of time within the chamber.

Time travel.

It doesn’t take long for the two to build a device on a larger scale and perform the math that will allow them to focus on the backwards looping effect, enabling them to make short trips backwards in time. Initially, the two focus on day trading; investing in the stocks that they already know will have the largest growth for that day. Eventually, however, the temptation is too much, and they begin to manipulate daily events. When a rift begins to appear between the two, and the time travelling causes them to overlap with their doubles, what will wind up being the final outcome?

“Primer” is a distinctly low-budget film, there’s no mistaking it. Reportedly, it was filmed on a mere $7,000. That lends a certain level of charm to the proceedings, though, as the script and story take center stage.

Filled with physics and engineering jargon, the script keeps a fast and loose feel to it. It never gets too bogged down in explaining the science behind things (probably because it can’t, LOL) or the time travel. The result is a movie that demands your attention because you’re figuring things out as you go, just as the characters are. Especially towards the end of the film, when everything is accelerating towards the climax, things are very difficult to keep track of. You get the sense that it’s intentional, but I’m not sure how well it plays. Time travel CAN be hard to keep track of, of course, but I think it can be clearer than offered here, such as in Nacho Vigalondo’s “Timecrimes” (which is a film I highly recommend). Here, there were a few events that I really didn’t feel on solid ground with, and I certainly don’t have 100% of a grasp on why the relationship between the two scientists broke down.

Confusion aside, this certainly is a fascinating film and a fun watch. There’s enough pseudo-science to buy into the fact that these two stumbled upon something incredible, the requisite share of time loops and time lines, and more than enough drama watching it all unfold.


Daniel Fogarty

47 thoughts on “Readers’ Recommendations: “Primer”

  1. Ooooo that sounds really cool! I haven’t heard of this film before, but time travel is generally awesome. Plus whenever people say movies are confusing I take it as a personal challenge. I will have to give it a watch sometime!

    • LOL! Personal challenge… funny. Well, you let me know how you fare. Meanwhile, though the time travel element certainly was interesting. Definitely provided most of the spark from the film 😉

    • Ha, yeah, like I said, I kind if like the fact that it’s challenging and that plenty of people won’t like/get it. Let me know what you think once you’ve seen it…

    • No problem Mark, thanks for participating!

      I think Carruth could have been a little more forthcoming in some of the details of their timelines (You KNOW he had it all extensively mapped out) and that could have made things a little easier to follow. As it is though, it certainly still was interesting. 😉

  2. I saw Upstream Color a couple of months ago, and Shane Carruth is quite a talent. And you’re right about the science; Carruth keeps it from getting TOO complicated. But I’ve seen the movie a few times, and I’m still not entirely sure what exactly happened. After reading this, I’ll have to check it out again. Excellent review!

    • Thanks Cam! See though, I’m not 100% sure that “I’ve seen the movie a few times, and I’m still not entirely sure what exactly happened” is a compliment to it. Frankly, that was one of the reasons I didn’t grade it higher… I don’t think it did a good enough job at the end of explaining all the ins and outs of what was going on. I’m fine with a movie that makes you think, but they have to give you enough pieces of the puzzle!! 😯

      • Definitely! I think that’s what makes Carruth such an interesting filmmaker. He doesn’t give you those cues in the score or emotional reaction shots to tell you this is an IMPORTANT SCENE! He doesn’t hold your hand and guide you. You really have to be on your game with one of his movies.

  3. I remember watching Primer a few years ago and found it very intriguing. I dont even remember how I even came across it. Its nice film to recommend to anybody who enjoys time travel films. Truecrimes is another great film that everyone should watch. Great post!

  4. Nice one gents! I just got a hold of this myself recently (after all the buzz I’ve been hearing). Haven’t watched it yet but it looks like it’s just jumped up higher on my list.

  5. I saw this film at the 2004 Atlanta Film Festival where I was a volunteer at the festival. Man, it’s such a mind-fuck. I have to re-watch the film as it’s been a very longtime since I’ve seen it. Plus, I got to meet and chat with Shane Carruth after the screening. That was awesome.

  6. Saw it recently and liked it,even if im not sure i understood it a %100 percent.

    And we can send you a suggestion anytime,right?Cause i keep thinking i should recommend you something, but haven’t decided exactly what yet

  7. I’ve been arguing over another blogger recently ’cause I gave a negative review to Carruth’s latest film “Upstream Color”, which he considers the best of the year so far. (I consider it the worst, and frankly, I recommended it, more than “Primer”) I watched this movie, and after the gimmick, it plays itself out, goes back and forth through time, for no other purpose, than to do it, his male protagonists, are always the most selfish of characters, I never understood that, and he can’t write female characters at all, and I think it’s gets by these two annoying characters, and he doesn’t know what to do with them, so he concocts a cliched dramatic ending. I’m a little surprised this film keeps getting brought up as a cult classic. I think the closer people look at it, the less there is.

    • I didn’t find either of the characters annoying, but I’ll agree that the motivations for the time travel loops they take towards the end were ill-explained, and thus could wind up feeling pointless. I’m not sure that it’s he cant write female characters, either, but there certainly weren’t any included in this movie. LOL This is Bechdel test failure territory. 😉

      I wasn’t overly impressed with it, but I still think it was a good watch.

  8. I’ve heard the name of this film bandied about in a few places, but I think this was the first time I’ve seen anybody actually say what it’s about. So thanks for that, Fogs. 😀 I might check it out sometime, it sounds reasonably interesting, and time travel stories can be good if handled right.

  9. I’m going to say something very cautiously here: Primer isn’t half the film that Upstream Color is. Okay, so, that’s not very cautious given that Primer has obtained unofficial “masterpiece” status, but Primer is infinitely more oblique and less complete than Upstream Color, which also happens to be more accessible.

    That’s not to say that Primer is bad or Upstream Color represents traditional filmmaking, but Carruth clearly spent his nine years between the two wisely and improved as a storyteller. I recommend Primer to people with caveats, I won’t do so much the same with Upstream Color.

    Primer is mostly fun when experienced with friends and pored over afterwards; it’s the sort of movie that needs maps and charts to be understood fully, and it actually benefits from that sense of complication. It’s a puzzle you want to solve, and you need to go to great lengths in order to do so. At least, that’s my take.

    • LOL, you are REALLY trying to sell me on “Upstream Color” today, huh? 😀 I may get to it soon.

      “Primer is mostly fun when experienced with friends and pored over afterwards; it’s the sort of movie that needs maps and charts to be understood fully, and it actually benefits from that sense of complication. It’s a puzzle you want to solve, and you need to go to great lengths in order to do so. At least, that’s my take.”

      I’m torn on that. I understand where you’re coming from, but part of me thinks we shouldn’t have to work THAT hard for it. The fans of this one appreciate that, but I’m sure it’s also going to leave a lot of people scratching their head and frustrated.

      I wasn’t so upset with that as to why some of the character changes happened. A rift appeared between the two and one of them started acting more selfishly and I didn’t really fully understand why either of those things happened 😦

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