Primer is one of those grapevine movies, one of the few that had a lot of people talking about it after it premiered. It is also a really smart science fiction film that approaches time travel in one of its more plausible scenarios, although I feel like most of the science went right over my head. That creating a machine for time travel that the inventors might not even know what they’ve created seem fitting.
Abe (Sullivan) approaches his friend and business partner Aaron (Carruth) one day and explains that the machine they had been working on doesn’t error check. This conclusion is drawn mostly by fungus, then by the fact that Abe has already built a machine for himself, and it is telling Aaron it exists from the future.
What Primer succeeds best in is building tension in a quiet, suburban manner. The men aren’t trying to change history when they first travel with the machines, just to win money through the stock market. Pretty soon, the notion of creating “doubles” and abusing the time streams is brought to an ethical quandary. Notably, the fact that Abe and Aaron are consciously aware that they are destroying themselves through the machine. Traveling back in time results in injuries that men discuss, but they slide over the fact that the man who goes into the box doesn’t exist at the end of the day. Identities are drawn clearly as “doubles” rather than acknowledging the paradox of ending one’s own life to pursue time travel. It poses an interesting double to a film like Moon where science effects the identity of the man experiencing it.
It’s worth another, more careful watch, if only to follow the engineer chatter that sets up the excellent third act. I will admit that I had to look up a Wikipedia article for fully understand the time loop the characters create and to clear up some plot quibbles I had. It doesn’t tie up perfectly, but it’s a movie that takes a popular topic for science fiction and turns it into an obscure dialogue into scientific ethics.