Whew. OK, I think I may just be ready to tackle the review of this week’s film. But first, of course, I’ve got to run through the short. Phong again appropriately selected an episode of the Twilight Zone entitled “The Long Morrow“. The story follows a young astronaut who is assigned on a mission to explore a distant planetary system. Despite faster-than-light travel, his round trip is going to last forty (or sixty?) years altogether, so during the mission he is to be held in suspended animation, thus:
The whole plan is perfect, except that a hot young scientist working on the project drops her notebook a few days before the mission is to launch. Not that she loses it and something goes horribly wrong with the mission as a result, no it’s just that our hero picks it up for her and starts turning on the charm. Well, they hit it off something terrible, and their parting is painful. She promises to show up to his return party as an old woman, it’s so very sad, etc.
Our intrepid astronaut leaves on his mission, a long time later he returns, and all of a sudden it’s a famous O. Henry story. It turns out that in order to age like his lover, he turned off the stasis field shortly into the trip. The decades alone not in stasis weren’t particularly psychologically edifying for him. And it gets worse, because the new guys in charge at the space agency find instructions to…remove a woman scientist from a stasis field she’s been in for the last however many years.
She’s young, he’s old and mentally tortured, and he sends her off to live her life without him. Sad.
OK, now on to the time travel in our feature film Primer, brought to us by Corey Ziemba and directed by (and starring) Shane Carruth. Carruth wrote and filmed Primer on a very skinny shoestring – it apparently cost $7000 total. And while it may not follow a traditional three-act format in any realistic sense at all, I found that there were three distinct sections to the film, and it’s probably easiest to describe it in terms of those sections.
Section 1: Weekend Warrior Science
Aaron and Abe and two other homeys work for an engineering firm during the day and run a techie-oriented business out of Aaron’s garage nights and weekends. Due to some disagreements about where their research should be focused, Aaron and Abe strike out on their own, working on what appears to be room-temperature superconductivity. It’s a bit tough to follow because Carruth made the daring (and probably appropriate) choice to write the dialogue as realistically as possible. The characters don’t explain to the audience what’s going on because, shoot, they already KNOW, and furthermore they spend as much time as possible talking in jargon because that what they really would be doing. So I think it’s room temperature superconductivity. It doesn’t much matter.
Well, they have some levitational success, but there’s definitely some weird stuff going on. For one thing, it seems to power itself for quite some time after the juice is cut.
Section 2: Everything You Know Is Wrong
Apparently Abe does some extra research when Aaron is not around and discovers that the residue that has been building up on some of the objects they are levitating is from normal microbial activity – but should require much more time – and he finally realizes that their device is additionally causing time travel. Wowie! The film picks up with Abe approaching Aaron to tell him about the time machine he has built.
After carefully leading him through the logic, sending a watch through the machine, and all that jazz, Aaron is on board and they set out to make some big cash day trading. The whole thing relies on the logic of the time machine (hereafter called the “Box”), which is reproduced below:
Basically, you go, turn on the Box (on a 15-minute timer, because when it actually goes on, somebody should come out of it), head off to a motel for 6 hours to sequester yourself and watch stock prices, go back and get in the Box that afternoon, emerge earlier in the morning, buy your stocks, and profit! But at some point…
Section 3: David Lynch Is Put To Shame
…you realize that it’s worse than a David Lynch film. Allow me to explain what I mean. Most David Lynch films seem to go something like this: some weird stuff happens, then some more weird stuff happens, then a third batch of weird stuff happens, and they all seem to be interconnected. And you watch, and you try to piece it together, and some of it makes sense for a while. Then more weird stuff happens that doesn’t fit in with the sense that you thought you had just figured out and you have to figure some more, and just when you think you’ve got it down, you get knocked for another loop. And after about an hour and half of this, you suddenly realize that it’s just not going not make sense at all no matter how hard you try.
Well, at some point you realize that nothing at all starting from Section 2 has been presented in a linear fashion, and an ambiguous character named Granger is introduced and the whole thing goes to hell so fast that you stop trying a full half hour before the movie ends. And the movie is only 77 minutes long and the first half hour is perfectly sensible. Ugh.
Fortunately, there are people so dedicated to this film (or so very lonely) that they’ve tried to tease apart the timelines. Take the following:
Or, for more detail, go to this website. That really helps. I understand it so much better now. (Dripping sarcasm) The one thing that becomes apparent only after studying other people’s theses on this film is that when Abe originally goes to tell Aaron about the time travel, they’re both playing each other. Abe has already gone through a time machine and has built a second, “failsafe” machine that he doesn’t tell Aaron about. But Aaron from the future has already discovered the failsafe, used it, drugged himself and taken his own place in order to get the drop on the unsuspecting Abe.
Don’t worry, he’s OK. He tied himself up in the attic.
All right. That’s your movie. There’s some stuff about a shotgun at a party and a missing cat and none of it matters because it involves Aaron(5) and Abe(3) and Abe(6) and Aaron(0) and Box(B1) and Aaron(72) actually taking several of the Boxes [A(0) and B(0)] back in time with him in another box [F(1)] so that there are so many parallel universes going on the only thing that we can know for sure is that Marty McFly told his own mother what his name should be.