Friday, June 5, 2009

I Need A Primer on....Primer

Netflix has this great feature called Play Now for some of the films in its ginormous library, which is large enough to impress even the likes of Burgess Meredith without his glasses. Anyway, based upon several recommendations, including one from my alter ego/son, Nicklas Hughes, I watched the film Primer through Netflix on my computer. I felt wonderfully high-tech and hip while doing it, which means I am neither.

The opening scene of Primer sucked me right in, and the hyperrealistic dialogue, as un-understandable as it was, had me reeling in a good way. Basically, the film follows two friends, who are amateur inventors looking to make the next big discovery, when they realize (SPOILER ALERT - YOU'VE BEEN WARNED) the anti-gravity machine they've constructed also doubles as a time machine of sorts.

The film moves well and has an uneasiness permeating every scene. You keep waiting for that inevitable disaster to happen, and it does....or at least I think it does.

You see, once the third act began, I couldn't follow a damned thing that was going on in the movie. This is to be expected somewhat when you're dealing with time travel, paradoxes, multiverses (?), etc., and especially when the story is about two engineers speaking in jargon the entire time. But alas, I couldn't piece together what was happening at the end, and not even a little quality time on the IMDb forums was much of a help. To sum up, here's what I read about the movie:

a) It requires multiple viewings. And even then, you still might not get it.
b) Many, many things are left unexplained.
c) No one can actually agree what is going on in the film.

Now I for one enjoy a lively debate about a movie as much as the next guy, but when the confusion reaches a certain point and when there is so much left up to the viewer to decide, I think a story has lost all meaning and worse, any sense of purpose. I'm not talking about a "Lady or the Tiger" scenario, I'm talking about where you just have no effing clue what is going on in a story, and even the people who praise the story don't seem to know much more than you do about it.

So, where's the line between complex, mysterious, thoughtful and subjective meaninglessness for you?

All that being said, I do recommend Primer because it is well-filmed, moves quickly, and was shot for a ridiculously low amount of money. It goes to show that creativity can triumph over low budgets and limited resources. My hat's off to Shane Carruth, the writer/director. I'd love to see more movies from this guy.

25 comments:

Brian O'Rourke said...

To give you a sense of the plot's complexity, here's a Primer timeline. Don't read it in detail if you don't want to be spoiled.

seanag said...

I'll have to wait till I see it to really look at this post, Brian, and that might be awhile. But I'm looking forward to experimenting with that Play Now feature, so it might be sooner rather than later. Not this weekend though.

adrian mckinty said...

Brian

Ok, the friends fall out and build separate time machines to undo what the other has done. At the very end we see one of them (I forget which) planning an even bigger and better machine to go back and undo everything that has gone before for his benefit.

So when the jumped the first time, they were watching themselves, watching themselves, watching themselves jump - being watched by that end guy.

The timelines get messed with and messed again.

I loved that movie - he made it for 10 grand, it won a first director prize at Sundance but he's more or less vanished. I think he might be too smart for his own good, which means too smart for the execs in Hollywood who would rather push Terminator 4 and Night at the Museum 2 down our throats.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Seana,

The Play Now feature is great, because it means not having to wait and mail back all the movies you want to see. They don't have it for all their movies, but still, it's a time-saver and you're not charged extra for it.

v-word: mandeo (man God?)

Brian O'Rourke said...

Adrian,

Yeah, I was very impressed by the production quality of the film, considering how little it cost. Though I guess it cost Carruth a lot more in other ways - apparently, he nearly gave up on it several times during two full years of post-production work.

T4 wasn't so bad. You know McG forced all his actors to read The Road before they filmed it?

seanag said...

I'm very curious why his film career didn't then move from strength to strength, and suspect Adrian might be right about running into some sort of snag in Hollywood. It's very frustrating to think about, actually. In a way, I hope he just got bored.

adrian mckinty said...

Brian

I'll bow to your judgement. Havent seen T4 although two things make me worry:

1. It was made by someone who calls himself McG.

2. Bill Murray was so incensed by this same McG that he headbutted him.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I really have no info on what happened to him. About TWO years ago I was going to write a little article on Primer for the late lamented Rocky Mountain News but when I tried to get in contact with him it proved completely impossible. I've read a few bloggy things that he's trying to write a new film but the info is sketchy. I dont really know why he wasnt at least given a chance to direct a low budget thriller or something. I thought the acting in Primer was naturalistic and consistent and that's largely down to the director...

Brian O'Rourke said...

Adrian,

Never heard about the Murray headbutt incident, but that's pretty hilarious. Any chance you're distantly related to McG, a.k.a. McGinty?

Brian O'Rourke said...

Oh and speaking of The Road, they are actually going to release the movie this year (they were supposed to last year). From the same guy that directed The Proposition.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Seana,

It really is a shame this guy hasn't made another movie. The talent and the brains are there. He even acted well in the film.

adrian mckinty said...

Brian

I have to take back what I said about his name. I found this quote by him which explains the nickname, it aint a Hollywood at all which is what I thought it was:

"It's fun to hate a guy called McG, but even more fun to hate a guy whose strident defense of his name is but a window into his sense of self-importance. In my humble opinion it's sheer fucking lunacy because it's just short for McGinty - fucking get past it. My name is Joseph McGinty Nichol. My mother's maiden name is McGinty. My uncle is Joe, my grandfather was Joe. I was called McG since the day I was born because we were broke and there were three Joes in the house. There's no Hollywood, 'I think I'll give myself a nickname' bullshit. It just is. And at some point I would be a sell-out punk if I rolled over and said, 'Well, call me Joe.' [...] I can only sigh and move forward"

seanag said...

One of your far-flung clan, no less, Adrian. Ironic that it's McG who suffers for the pretensions of others.

And yet, now I think about it, probably most of the celebs with this kind of handle probably came by it in some street or nickname kind of way--and why, really, should we look down on anyone for delusions of grandeur? Life itself will teach them otherwise soon enough.


McG sounds nice. What on earth would Bruce Willis (who doesn't) have head-butted him for?

adrian mckinty said...

Suzie

It was Bill Murray who headbutted him. Murray is a serious manic depressive though so anything could have happened. Murray wasnt in the second of Charlie's Angels films. BTW I think I might blog about the whole McKinty McGinty thing. Fascinating eh?

Brian O'Rourke said...

Adrian,

That would make for an interesting blog. What with the vagaries of orthography, pronunciation, and transliteration, I figured there was a decent possibility of a connection between McKinty and McGinty.

seanag said...

McK, please do. There are some McGintys in town, actually related in some way to the family that runs the bookstore, the Coonertys. Not that that has anything to do with it, but if they were warring clans in the distant past, that would be fun. For me, if no one else.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Suzie,

As McK has pointed out before, there's quite possibly a war-like gene swimming around in the Celtic blood, so chances are good there was a feud at some point.

seanag said...

Actually, now I think about it, they're McGinleys, not McGintys. Now I'm going to think about where I know those McGintys from. Was it my past life in the gutters of Chicago, or just where?

Brian O'Rourke said...

Which is also strange because I've known a few McKinleys in my time. Matter of fact, there's a decent bar that goes by that name about ten minutes from my house.

seanag said...

I'm sure McK will enlighten on that whole 'K or G' variation in all due course.

adrian mckinty said...

Suzie

I will.

Nick Hughes said...

Adrian -

This could be why Carruth hasn't yet made another film.

Brian-

I'm sorry I missed this conversation - thanks for the mention. I was "off the grid" for a few days, a la John Connor. And if McG wants us to get over his name he'd better stop cursing at us. What part of that doesn't he understand? We're done professionally.

seanag said...

It does sound at the end, though, as if it's really just money that's kept him from starting another.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Nicklas,

Nice linkage there. I wouldn't have thought to liken Primer to All the President's Men, but it does make sense.

BTW, that's an effing awesome movie.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Seana,

I wish I were a Hollywood producer with a lot of money sitting around. I'd be happy to give Carruth some for making another movie.