Primer: The Film Neil Breen Wants To Make (If You Know, You Know)

Primer is a 2004 sci-fi drama written, directed, edited, scored *deep breath* produced and starring Shane Carruth. It also stars David Sullivan, Casey Gooden and Anand Upadhyaya. The film follows the life of two friends who are also entrepreneurs as they accidentally discover time travel.


There are two ways to watch Primer:

  1. Go into it fully blind as you’d do with any movie and hope to god that you “figure” everything out
  2. Do what I did.

30 minutes into watching the film, I stopped and read through the film’s Wikipedia page. I know that going in knowing the plot of a film is heresy to any “real” fan of cinema but I had to make a choice. I was quite enjoying the character drama unfolding in front of me and I knew that my personal investment was with the characters than with the plot progression itself. I knew the basics. The two leads had invented the time machine and were feeling their way into figuring out what to do with it. That is all I needed to know. Anything I personally figured out over the course of the film (which was a lot, surprisingly enough, putting my engineering degree to good use here) was a bonus.


I was extremely intrigued by the character work and score of the film. We live in a world that inhabits many men and women who are constantly doing their best to be entrepreneurs. All of us realise that “jobs” are not the way to go because out of 50 people in an office, only 1 gets to stand on top of the proverbial mountain. We want to be our own bosses and leave our marks on the world while we exploit our ideas in the process. This is quite possibly the exact same character arc the very excellent film “The Social Network” presents. The primary driving force of the film are the characters and their relationships.

For a film shot on a budget of $7000, it’s executed marvellously. There are so many unique editing and directing tricks at play here. The film flows so very smoothly and the ominous feeling of “this is not all great” is palpable with almost every shot. The film does look grainy and unpolished but I feel it adds to the story and overall aura more than take away from it in any way. We have been subject to this well-shared picture on our FaceBook walls where we are shown the humble origins of multi-billion dollar corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, Infosys etc. This film revels in maintaining that level of authenticity.


Even though I can’t help but praise the film for its many merits, I did find a few paradoxes in its storytelling (tell me I’m too dumb to get the film’s intelligence) and also it commits the sin of creating convenient conflict to propel it towards its climactic sequence. The final sequences seem rushed, forced, contrived and many such synonyms one uses to describe those events.

Coming back from that jarring and quite off-tone paragraph, Primer is the kind of film run-of-the-mill indie movies try to be. But what Primer has that most others don’t is an unpretentious look at budding entrepreneurs. I see no ego associated with the film. I see myself or my friends in it. I see real people. If I were to create a time machine, I would much rather use it to earn money or make my life better than think about the moral implications its use comes with and that one reason is enough for me to revisit this movie down the line.



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