Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff.” ― Steven Moffat (Doctor Who writer)

One of the merits of good science fiction is that it's not all about the special effects. It's about the ideas. Of course, there are directors that don't understand this. Michael Bay comes to mind. However, director Shane Carruth does.

Carruth made the sci-fi film, Primer, for $7000 in 2004. Hell, Michael Bay's hair stylist made more than that. We're talking Robert Rodriguez, El Mariachi, Rebel Without a Crew territory. Sleeping in your parents' basement, McDonald's catering style.

When you are making a movie for that amount, you have to wear a lot of hats. Carruth wrote, directed and starred in the movie. His parents catered the movie ... for real.

I've had the DVD for a year or two. I had heard a good review of it on NPR or some podcast. I can't remember exactly. But, I'm glad I finally watched Primer.

There are no special effects. The shooting locations are a garage and a U-Haul storage location. The technical dialogue is intentionally complicated, perhaps to obfuscate, but not in a bad way. More just to confuse enough to make the story plausible.

Primer is about 4 engineers making some kind of device in their garage in their free time. The way they talk about it, it is some type of device that will be market-changing once it is perfected. Two of the engineers think that that is all the device is ... something industrial and useful. The other two engineers, through extensive experimentation and fine-tuning without the other two, discover that it is much more: a time machine.

They refine enough that each can travel ahead in time a day or so. They use this to obtain stock information that will allow them to make short term investments and make money. The complications arise out of the fact that each time they travel, they are creating multiple timelines and iterations of themselves. These iterations encounter each other and confusion ensues. Add on to that the fact that the story is told in a style that is either non-linear (a la Memento) or such that you don't know whose timeline you are following. The ambiguity and causal confusion is what makes Primer, and these types of stories in general, interesting.

I can't get enough of time-travel/multiple timeline/causation stories. No one can honestly say that they haven't thought about what they would do or how they would change things if given the ability to travel in time. Or as the tagline says,

"If you always want what you can't have, what do you want when you can have anything?"

I can't honestly tell you where to find this movie. I think I picked it up used at a Blockbuster Video. As far as I can tell, it is not on Netflix Instant. Anyway, if you want to see it, and can't find it, I'd be more than happy to mail you my copy.

1 comment:

wunelle said...

Never even heard of it! Time travel stuff always puts the brain in a knot, since it brings into question so many things we kind of take for granted or think we understand intuitively. I'm reminded that this was a big aspect of Einstein's genius, to realize the world is different from how we intuit it to be, even if it demonstrates as we expect.

I'll have to see Primer. It seems to raise more questions than it satisfies.