Primer (2004) (PG-13)

"Primer" is a puzzle-box. It's gloriously complicated and full of double takes and small cuts from here to there as if no one in the editing room actually cared. The narrative is fractured, and that's putting it nicely. It follows suit of many movies that would predate it like "Memento" and "Following" and also influences the later works that include the director's own "Upstream Color"—which is, unfortunately, superior in every way.
This is not to say that "Primer" isn't good, on the contrary, it's quite good. But that's like comparing "Insomnia" and "Inception"...yes, you can never have enough Nolan references.
This film is a complete work by Shane Carruth, who supervised and contributed to almost every single aspect of the movie. He stars in the film, wrote the screenplay, directed it, edited it, cast it, and produced it.
The film itself begins in a haze—four engineers are working on a project in their spare time, mostly as their boss figure's house. This man's name is Aaron and he seems like the one who is heading the project, at least, compared to everyone else.
What they are working on, we never really know—though it seems like an experiment to decrease mass. They construct a rough looking metal box and object will go inside, argon gas will be released and several switches will be turned and then—poof the mass of the object will start to decline by ten percent. Does this mean that they are creating a different gravitational force or that they're are shaving off a little bit of matter...who knows? The viewer certainly doesn't.
The film's beginning is weak, although it's not without its merits. Carruth takes the Woody Allen approach of having everyone shout over each other . It's very organic and truthful, but also feels like a way to divert attention from actual scientific knowledge. He seems to be doing this to confuse people and in doing so, not really having to explain the facts behind this mysterious box.
Aaron and his colleague/friend Abe are the two among the four that really become interested in what this box can do to see, they aren't even sure of what their creation is capable of doing.
Aaron and Abe both are somewhat anti-heroes, not causing anyone harm but not stopping to think about ethics before plunging into schemes, and they're not above 'cheating' to get money.
"Primer" is complicated, yes, but this characteristic is practically the only similarity with Carruth's latest work, "Upstream Color"...which was only his second feature. "Primer" is about the complication, whereas "Upstream Color" laid that aside for a love story.
Carruth seems to draw his inspiration from movie makers like Malick and Aronofsky, the directors that couldn't be more different. His ethereal looking shots and intricate angles are nothing compared to his sophomore film, but they do ring true of Malick. The narrative also, somewhat Malick-ian. Then there's a splash of Aronofsky for the grittiness and the psychological aspect of the film.
"Primer" is short, over a hour long, but not by much. The amount of creativity that they stuff into such a short film is quite astonishing. This isn't complication that is needless, mind you, it is about the mystery and that mystery is quite fun to unravel.
Never does it outstay its welcome or slip into blathering, both of which it could have done quite easily.
Near the end of the film, Carruth shows just how creative he is and stretches the viewer's mind just a little..."Primer" shows how any person with a great idea and a gift for storytelling can make a movie.
Carruth's debut film is staggeringly original and quite fun to watch. It's a little immature and perhaps even too simple for its end goal—but still, a very solid movie.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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