Thursday, April 9, 2009
An ingenious mind-bender shot for a purported $7,000 in Super 16, Primer is a better science-fiction film than George Lucas could make with all the money in the world. And it's only technically sci-fi. It's difficult to pigeon-hole a film that so successfully mixes science, philosophy, and the nature of reality in such a disarming way, and without resorting to the standard science-fiction tropes.
See, it's all about the story. With little or no money, DIY filmmakers (such as writer/director Shane Carruth) must rely on their wits since they can't dazzle you with expensive special effects and big name stars. Primer begins with four engineers working nights and weekends in a garage building error-checking devices. They spend their free time tinkering with this and that, and accidentally tear a hole in the space-time continuum. To tell you more would spoil the fun. Primer won Sundance's Grand Jury prize in 2004.
31-year old Shane Carruth wrote, directed, and acted in Primer. Carruth was a math major in college who worked as an engineer before teaching himself filmmaking. He was interviewed by the Village Voice:
How did you come up with the film's principles of time travel?
Richard Feynman has some interesting ideas about time. When you look at Feynman diagrams [which map the interaction of elementary particles], there's really no difference between watching an interaction happen forward and backward in time. That's something I got interested in early on. I always knew what the story was thematically before it turned into science fiction. It would be about trust and how that's linked to what's at risk. I was reading about innovation and that's where I got the setting. Now what is this device? At that point, I'm where a lot of sci-fi writers are—just going through the list of what this thing could be. When I got to the ability to affect time, there was a lot of material to mine that I hadn't seen before—it's usually warpspace or wormholes. In almost any time travel story, people pick themselves up at one point in time and then immediately exist at another—they move from the present day to the 1950s or prehistoric times, and I never liked that because if I were to jump back a day, I'd find myself in a different space because of the orbit of the earth. Whenever you're addressing moving in time you need to talk about space. When you walk to the door you have to walk every moment between here and there, so it seems that, if you're moving through time backwards, you should have to pass through each moment back to get there. That would be the price you pay.
Read the rest of the interview here.
Watch these clips and rent or buy Primer soon.