Monday, July 2, 2007

It insists upon itself

I finally got around to watching indie sci-fi thriller Primer last night, after a friend recommended it about a year ago. It's basically about a couple of engineers who accidentally invent a time machine, and the plot unwinds predictably thereafter. It's the same old story.

The first of the guys, Abe, turns on the machine, which is a necessary step for anyone to jump back to that particular point in time. This is also the moment that his time-travelling double future self could re-emerge from the machine, so he needs to set a timer for the machine to start automatically after a fifteen minute delay. He'd then have time to escape and not risk bumping into his future double, and risk polluting the respective timelines with causal anomalies.

He then waits six hours before entering the time-travel box, and starts travelling back in time at 'normal' (but reverse) velocity, and after six hours he (Abe2) is back at the point where the timer originally started the machine. His other self (Abe1) is hiding in a hotel room, beginning his six hour wait before using the time machine. After six hours Abe1 gets into the box, again, and gets stuck in a time loop, allowing Abe2 to continue a single Abe future timeline.

However, it's not all as straightforward as that. Unknown to the audience until later in the film, Abe had built a secret 'fail-safe' time machine the day before and started it running, giving someone the opportunity to go back in time even further, just in case they had to prevent the second box being built.

At this point I went to make a cup of tea and found a Milo bar in the cupboard. They were delicious and complemented each other perfectly. There were then some other time travel shenanigans involving Abe, and possibly the other guy Aaron, and they used the machine to get prescient knowledge of sports and stock results to make some money, and explore themes of time travel paradox and existentialism.

You don't find this out until the last twenty minutes, but Aaron had actually discovered the secret fail-safe machine and used it travel back in time to before the first other box was built. He took the first time machine with him in the box, back to when the first fail-safe box was turned on. Luckily he doesn't bump into Abe because he turned on the machine using a timer, to avoid bumping into himself.

Even though most of the plot and its nine separate timelines aren't shown explicitly and need to be inferred from other parts of the story, it's perhaps a bit unfair of some critics to label the film a 'wilfully pretentious exercise in obfuscation'. It's certainly abstruse and mostly incomprehensible, but that's the appeal. It goes to amazing lengths to avoid any exposition whatsoever.

1 comment:

Vaughany said...

Right.

TILT!