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Primer

  • Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 28 Oct
  • COMMENTS
Primer

from Film Forum, 10/28/04
Name a science fiction film in which the director, the writer, and the star are all the same person. You'd probably have to go back to Woody Allen's 1973 film Sleeper—;a caper that was more comedy than sci-fi. (Can you think of another?)

Primer's not a one-man show, but it is the vision of one talented filmmaker—;director/writer/star Shane Carruth. And it is a compelling, challenging vision. The film recalls 2001: A Space Odyssey and George Lucas' THX 1138 in that it plunges us into a complicated context without taking the time to help viewers get comfortable. It will undoubtedly be compared to Memento for the way it challenges us to pay attention to connect scenes together. And yet, Carruth's style is surprisingly simple—;a simplicity necessary due to Carruth's low budget (he made the film for about $7,000). But he does wonders with these limited resources, and proves to be an inventive cinematographer with 16-millimeter cameras.

The less you know about the story, the better. Half of the fun of Primer is in trying to understand what the central characters are trying to build in their garage laboratory. The other half is in figuring out what's happening once their mysterious machine begins to work. I won't discuss the plot details here. (You won't have to look far to find them if you want them—;many film reviewers are saying far too much about the story.) Suffice it to say that it's about the ethical responsibilities we must accept if we are to bring new, more powerful technology into humankind's reach. These characters get their hands on something powerful, and in doing so, their sinful nature comes snarling into the open despite their best intentions.

My full review of the film is at Looking Closer.

Mark Moring (Christianity Today Movies) talked to Carruth about the project and discovered that he's a Christian. "I was raised in the church, and for a long while I've been very devoted to my quiet times, where I meditate on the Bible. So everything that I believe is informed by that, including this film. I meet people and I know that what they're doing is hurting people, though the intention isn't there. They found a way to make it work. And so I'm just trying to understand it in a more practical way: How can it be that we've got all these well-intentioned people, and yet at the end of the day there's conflict? I think it's a very complicated problem. I'm just trying to understand how it actually manifests as opposed to whether it's a sinful nature or not."

About the film, he says, "It's about trust, and how that trust is dependent on what's at risk. The main characters who have a conventional relationship at the beginning, but the relationship changes with the introduction of this device and its power. It unravels the relationship. Not that either of them is necessarily a good or a bad person, but because there's too much to trust somebody else with."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) is not a big fan of the film. "Despite an intriguing conceit and edgy, no-frills look, the film is weighed down by its indecipherable plot and cryptic techno-babble dialogue which will leave many viewers scratching their heads."

Film Forum will feature more religious press reviews in the coming weeks as they become available. Mainstream critics are divided over the film, but its fans go so far as to call it "the freshest thing the genre has seen since 2001."

from Film Forum, 11/04/04
Nathan Nix (Relevant) compares it to Memento and Donnie Darko, saying, "Once you figure it out, the complexity of the story is rewarding." He praises director/writer/star Shane Carruth for "bucking the clichés of low-budget films by daring to tell a complex story." And he is impressed by the film's avoidance of unnecessary special effects, "which usually are employed to distract the audience [from] the fact that their stories are contrived and dim. It utilizes science fiction to focus on humanity and the idea of human trust and the limits of that trust. It wants the audience to think more about the moral implications of technology than the actual technology."

from Film Forum, 12/23/04
Josh Hurst (Reveal) says, "Heavy stuff, to be sure. And all that from a first-time filmmaker with a pocket full of change. I'm not sure which is more inspiring, the fact that Primer asks so many important questions or the fact that, despite its low budget, it's such a well-done film."

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