Thursday night was the second Clearleft Movie Night.
After doing scary movies back in November, the theme this time around was time travel. Time travel is a fairly rich seam to mine as far as movies go, though for every Time Bandits there’s a Time Cop, so you have to choose wisely if you want a quality time-travel experience.
I’m not sure we chose entirely wisely the other night. We had a lot of films to pick from, ranging from the whimsical Pleasantville to the suspenseful and tightly composed Timecrimes (Los Cronocrímenes), but the vote for the first film of the evening came down to either 12 Monkeys, which most everyone had seen but was happy to watch again, or a Japanese film called Returner.
In the end we opted for Returner, which was like a cross between Terminator, Transformers, The Matrix and E.T. To be fair, I think the film would have been marginally less ridiculous had we watched it with subtitles instead of cheesy dubbing, but even so, it was rather silly and, as is the case with so many Asian SF/horror films, it just didn’t know when to stop. It was good for some laughs, and I did quite like the planes transforming into spaceships, but I still kind of wished the vote had gone in favor of 12 Monkeys (one of the best time-travel movies ever).
The second movie of the night had been decided in advance, because it was agreed (by those who had seen it already, anyway) that no time-travel evening would be complete without it: Primer.
I was surprised to discover yesterday that I actually blogged about Primer four years ago, after Jeremy and I watched it for the first time (I should say the first two times, because straight after watching it the first time we watched it all over again). What I said then still holds true today: it’s a fascinating, intelligent, believable film which chews up your brain and spits it out again, leaving you to sort out the pieces.
Our viewing of Primer this time around was somewhat hampered by the sound system, which made it really difficult to understand the dialog—and Primer consists mostly of dialog, rapidly spoken and overlapping at that. Nonetheless, everyone seemed to enjoy the movie, and when the lights came up, we all sat in silence for a few moments, trying to work out what it was we had just seen.
If you’ve seen Primer and you want some assistance in mapping out what exactly happened when and to whom, there’s a decent description on the Primer Wikipedia page, there are some very thorough timelines out there, and there’s an exellent 19-page essay which goes into great detail about “the perils and paradoxes of time travel” (it also taught me the word syuzhet, a term I’d never heard before).
However, as I said the first time I wrote about Primer, if you haven’t seen the movie yet but you’re planning to, don’t read about it in advance. Much of the pleasure derives from being carried along by the script to an unknown destination and trying to work out for yourself what’s going on. Only when your brain has been fried by the movie once should you do a bit of research—and then watch it again. Appropriately enough considering the multiplicity of timelines and interpretations it offers, Primer is a film which encourages—or even demands—multiple viewings.