The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

I’ve never felt as stupid as when I watched this movie

with 24 comments

Once upon a time I had the illusion of being a fairly smart person.

I think I got the idea from doing too many intelligence tests. My parents had a book full of those and I did them all. The thing with those tests is that it’s an acquired skill. You get better at it the more of them you do. But since it gives such a pleasant ego boost to get the suggestion that your intelligence is above the average, we’ll rather suspend our disbelief.

The older I get the more humble do I become about my level of intelligence. If I ever was smart, I can be pretty certain that it’s not the case anymore. Brain cells die every day. I’m on a one way journey into decay and destruction. The entropy must increase.

But somewhere inside me I must still have had a little remaining rest of the pride I once took in being smart. Otherwise I wouldn’t have felt as frustrated as I did when I watched Primer.

Primer is about time travelling, that much I got. But the actual plot was way beyond my comprehension. And it bugged me. It bugged me a lot.

So here were a bunch of young, a bit geeky engineer sort of guys, technobabbling away, making some sort of time travelling device. After a while I figured out that I probably watched different versions of them, on different, parallel timelines. But I couldn’t keep them apart. There appeared to be some sort of conflict going on between them. They seemed frustrated, dissatisfied. I think they tried to fix something that had gone broken in their messing with time. Messing with time is serious business, we all know that. Here there be butterflies! But why, who, where, when? I had no idea.

In a final desperate attempt to have something to hold on to, some way to orient myself in this spaghetti mess of a story, I fixated on the ties the guys wore. I spotted some sort of variation between them. One moment they wore quite bright striped ties, the next one they were darker. Hey, there was at least something! But what did it mean? Which tie was from the future and which one from the present?

I don’t think I’ve ever left a movie so dissatisfied. Above all I was angry at myself for not paying more attention. And a bit butt hurt realizing that I wasn’t smart. It was as if I had tried one of those intelligence puzzles consisting of a few wooden pieces, rings and ropes, and failed miserably.

It’s hard to give a fair rating to a movie that you didn’t understand at all, so I won’t even try.

I have the feeling that if I watched it four or five times, taking breaks whenever needed whenever the plot slipped out of my hands, I might actually like it. Kind geeks with too much time at their hands have made insanely complicated maps explaining all the timelines, which could guide idiots like me through. And then I might start to notice and appreciate the personal drama that may or may not be there, hidden beyond all the technicalities of timelines.

However, this is just speculation. As it was now, I saw it in a theatre thanks to my local film club. I only had once chance to solve this intelligence puzzle. And I blew it. 😦

Primer (Shane Carruth, US, 2004) My rating: ?/5

Written by Jessica

October 20, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in Primer

24 Responses

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  1. Its a pretty amazing film due in major part to the complexity in the plot threads. I really enjoyed it, but it took a second view for me to follow all the twists. I think somebody created a cute pictogram for it too.


    October 20, 2011 at 1:34 am

    • Yes, I’ve seen the graph over it. Someone posted it on the Filmspotting forum. It looks absolutely asolutely crazy. No wonder I had so hard to follow the plot!


      October 20, 2011 at 10:11 am

  2. I liked this film and thought it was quite original though I too, found it to be quite confusing. I did get to the meet the director when I went to a screening of it at a film festival. He was quite nice.

    Steven Flores

    October 20, 2011 at 1:40 am

    • So you didn’t grab the opportunity to get the plot explained to you?


      October 20, 2011 at 10:14 am

  3. I enjoyed this film because it’s so original. However, I’m not sure I could have explained most of what happened after I saw it, besides the obvious part of it. So I can definitely understand your confusion. I’ve only seen it once, and I agree that it likely takes multiple viewings to get a better grasp of all the time lines.

    Dan Heaton

    October 20, 2011 at 5:51 am

    • I’m afraid I couldn’t even explain the basics of it. I got lost somewhere on the way. I still think it’s probably a good movie. But I would need to understand at least a little more to appreciate it fully.


      October 20, 2011 at 10:15 am

  4. “In a final desperate attempt to have something to hold on to, some way to orient myself in this spaghetti mess of a story, I fixated on the ties the guys wore.” Jessica, I couldn’t even follow the plot of Pulp Fiction, so in desperation I did exactly the same thing – I tried to keep up with who was wearing which set of clothes at which point. And let’s face it, Pulp Fiction wasn’t really a complicated plot! I’m now intrigued however, and may have to rent this just to see how confused I can get…

    The Wide Eyed Imp

    October 20, 2011 at 7:21 am

    • Oh, this is far worse. Believe me! Rent it, but be prepared with a pictogram over the timelines. You can find it on the webs.


      October 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

  5. Obviously this film is inaccessible to the average viewer. Strangely, I have a liking and affinity for films that make little to no sense. But this just looks bad.


    October 20, 2011 at 9:15 am

    • If you have a liking for films that make little sense I definitely think you should give this a try.


      October 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

  6. I love your writing more and more Jessica. It is so personal and honest.

    I have never seen this film and probably never will. Unlike Tyler I am not really after films that leave the viewer scratching their melon trying to comprehend the plot.

    Thanks for writing this my friend

    Scott Lawlor

    October 20, 2011 at 9:57 am

    • Awww thank you for your kind words Scott! Much appreciated!


      October 20, 2011 at 10:17 am

  7. I think when I went into this film the first time I had a distinct advantage. I love time travel. You already know this, I’m sure. I’ve watched a lot of time travel films, and I’ve poured over all kinds of information and theories about time travel over the years. So even though the film was incredibly confusing in the way it presents its story, I still had a relatively good handle on the gist of what was happening. Though I didn’t fully understand how we got to the ending, for example, I understood the basics of how it happened and what it meant.

    Multiple viewings, some with an actual timeline for the film sitting in front of me, have helped to clarify the scene-to-scene plot mechanics, though even then there are some details that Carruth leaves out that can only be guessed at. But what’s great about these multiple viewings is that you start to realize just how interrelated the story of the time travel is with the story of the characters’ friendship. It’s really a film about how far you are willing to go when you have no restraints, and in turn how that kind of power can break you down as well as your relationships.

    I hope you give it another viewing at some point. Maybe with that great timeline to help walk you through everything.

    Corey Atad

    October 20, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    • I too love time travel, but I guess I*m not as deep into it as you are, studying theories and stuff…
      As what the movie is about I can only trust you on your word. I would need to get a better grip of the plot before I can enjoy the rest that is under it. I don’t need to understand everything. But a basic grip.


      October 20, 2011 at 9:01 pm

  8. I’ve not seen it yet, and we have it. I keep meaning to, but never quite think I’ve enough brainpower. Having said that, I know of someone who had to watch Memento reshuffled into a linear sequence…!


    October 20, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    • Hehe… Memento I actually could follow… But I recommend you to watch Primer very much awake and with a timeline explanation close to you.


      October 21, 2011 at 7:52 am

  9. This movie was so confusing it was frustrating to watch. I’m sure if you watch a second or third time, you would get the gist of it but it just didn’t feel like it was worth it, given that I felt bored for most of the run time.


    October 21, 2011 at 2:19 am

    • I have to admit that I didn’t feel particularly excited or involved watching it. I just imagine that if I got the plot I might become. But I don’t know. And it’s not likely that I’ll return to it.


      October 21, 2011 at 7:53 am

      • I guess this is where I really had a different experience with the film. The first time through, though I didn’t have a clue what was going on half the time, I understood enough that some of the twists and turns really got to me. I found it really involving and engaging. What’s interesting is that the film doesn’t really treat one moment as bigger than another through the filmmaking. Instead it relies on your understanding of the gravity of what’s happening. So, for example, when it was revealed that before all the main time travel events had taken place one of the guys already went back and created a back up machine, I was pretty shocked and amazed. Such an ingenious plot twist, but it’s sort of buried in all the little details.

        The other aspect that I loved was that the two guys were traveling through time, but didn’t exactly know how time worked, and what effects they’d be having. They figure it out over the course of the film, with the viewer trying to play catch-up. But that gives us great stuff like when the cell phone rings and it raises the question of whether the non-time traveling version of the phone also rang, or if it didn’t, and if it didn’t then does that mean time has been altered, and if it has been altered what are the potential effects. The characters are playing around with things they don’t understand, and I love that something as simple as a cell phone ringing can bring that all home for the characters and the audience.

        That, of course, assumes that you’re at least following what’s going on a little bit. It can be difficult, but I do think it’s rewarding.

        Corey Atad

        October 21, 2011 at 9:03 am

  10. I liked Primer, but I was warned it was a mind-bending movie. I kept up with it a bit, but I think I should watch it again sometime.

    Here’s a great comic about movies as a whole, but with a punchline about Primer in particular:

    Hope that puts a smile on your face, Jessica. 🙂

    Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    October 21, 2011 at 7:06 am

    • That comic made my day! It’s wonderful!
      The representation of Primer is spot on. And 12 Angry men… 🙂


      October 21, 2011 at 7:55 am

  11. […] and forward in different timelines and I bet that if you tried to draw it on a paper, it would be about as confusing as the one in Primer. But in this case it didn’t lessen my enjoyment. I felt no need to follow all the details or know […]

  12. I just watched it and I couldn’t follow it. Something with time traveling and meeting their doubles… It didn’t help that after five minutes my sister and dad were complaining that they didn’t get it.

    I’m sure there will be fora where people will discuss it all and explain who’s the double at each time and what happens by people who watched it ten time. But I don’t have the patience for that.

    Still, if you know the movie only cost $7000(!) it’s an admirable effort.


    November 24, 2011 at 12:22 am

    • While I’m sad you had a crappy movie experience, I can’t help feeling glad that it’s not just me who couldn’t follow.


      November 24, 2011 at 12:26 am

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