Friday, March 31st, 2006

I can only think of two occasions on which Jeremy and I have watched a movie and then gone back and watched it all over again immediately after the credits rolled. The first time was with Below, a criminally underrated film by the director of the (almost) equally underrated Pitch Black. After sitting through the twisty, creepy movie once on DVD, we sat through it all again to listen to the director’s commentary (which was somewhat enlightening, but certainly not as entertaining as the film itself).

The second time was last night with the movie Primer. Though Primer was released in 2004, it only reached our video store this past week - but it was certainly worth the wait. The cover of the DVD billed it as “Donnie Darko for grown-ups”, which is silly but not entirely off the mark. It’s a time-travel movie that - in typical time-travel-movie fashion - completely does your head in. Like Donnie Darko, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or even Memento, it’s a film that starts off going in one direction but then twists back on itself, creating knotty timelines which nonetheless have an internal logic - if your brain is capable of following it.

Primer makes the viewer work hard, but paradoxically, it’s never laborious to watch. I was enchanted by the stunningly naturalistic performances of the actors, the interesting “analog” look and feel of the film, and the tiny revelations in the storyline which gradually coalesce to give you the bigger picture. The plot moves along at a fair clip and nothing is spelled out for you, so you have to stay on your toes to follow what’s going on. But I was happy with that, because I really wanted to know what was going on, and I relished the feeling of being drawn into a simple suburban world which gets progressively darker, stranger and more confusing.

Primer won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and indeed it was slated by some reviewers who felt it was deliberately, unreasonably convoluted. It certainly isn’t the type of movie that you watch, enjoy and promptly forget about - or maybe it is if you’re either very, very clever or you don’t mind just being perplexed and leaving it at that. As for Jeremy and me, we watched the movie, enjoyed it immensely, were totally confused, immediately watched it again with the director’s commentary, got even more confused, and then spent the rest of the evening trawling the forum on the Primer website and trying to work out precisely what had happened to all the characters and all the duplicates of the characters in all the timelines that had been generated by the end of the film (or was it just duplicates of characters in multiple iterations of a single timeline…? Geez, I still can’t figure it out…).

Well, if you like puzzling out time-travel conundrums, you’ll like Primer. Even if you can’t be bothered working out the chronological details, the film offers an intriguing and highly believable story about the nature of friendship, power and deceit. And what’s particularly remarkable is that this fascinating, extremely intelligent movie - which rightfully won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2004 - was made in 5 weeks for just 7000 dollars by a writer/director/lead actor who had never written a screenplay, directed a film or acted before. That makes one think long and hard about the 100-million-dollar drivel being turned out by the major studios - but it also gives me some hope for the future of cinema.

Update: Jeremy, who blogged about the movie today as well, has a good point: if you haven’t yet seen the movie but you intend to, try to avoid finding out anything about the plot beforehand. So, all those links to the official movie site and the IMDB I’ve provided up above? Don’t follow ‘em. You’ll have more fun watching if you don’t know any more than the characters do about what’s going on.


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