Saturday, 19 January 2013

Primer (2004)

Often sold as a "realistic" time travel movie, Primer is a film that asks what would happen if some time travel was discovered not by some mad scientists or by a spaceship travelling through some wormhole or some idiots and a hot-tub, but rather some regular guys.

Two scientific engineers, the kinds that work in offices not futuristic labs, are running some projects in their garage into some project that would reduce the weight of objects when they find that their invention has an unintended function: it can allow for time travel. Explained through some rather impressive but grounded sounding science the machines function in a similar way but create some ridiculously complexes consequences littered with paradoxes, alternative timelines and other wibbly wobbly timey stuff. Essentially, the machines function so that you can turn it on, then go about your life for a bit, then when you choose to get in the machine, you'll come out at the point when you turned it on.

The machines for the film have been designed mostly to fit into the crazily small budget (just $7000), but the restrictions really do give the film the realistic edge. They can only go backwards, and only to a point where the machine existed and was turned on, so there's no future travel and nobody's going back to the stone age. With those possibilities removed it focusses the film like a laser onto what really drives the production: the idea of what would happen if some normal, fallible people discovered such a potent power.

Moving through a number of alternate timelines (I think I counted six, but there's probably more that went over my head) the picture of what's actually going on and what's been "fixed" blurs immensely towards the end of the film as emotions take over and the initial focus of the travelling falls into the background. The confusion only adds to the effect though. I mean, would any of us really have any idea what we were doing if we went back in time, even only a few hours or days? The potential to do some serious damage is everywhere, and the temptation to just go back again and compund the damage is all too easy.

I'm not going to claim I completely understood what happened at the end of Primer because to put it bluntly I just didn't. I do know that I enjoyed my confusion though.

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