Time-traveling nerds speak in ninth person

When was the last time a new, innovative director surfaced in the science fiction genre? Perhaps an even more pressing question would be, when was the last time a new, innovative idea surfaced in the science fiction genre?

Most moviegoers would say the Wachowski brothers “Matrix” trilogy qualifies, but the true sci-fi fans know that Shane Carruth’s “Primer” takes the cake. It’s David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” meets Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” meets Timothy Leary on LSD, while listening to “The White Album.” To say it bluntly, “Primer” is a mind trip, but one that’s well worth taking.

The film opens with four geeks in a garage working on some unknown contraption. And when I say unknown, I mean for both the audience and the technicians themselves. And when I say geeks, I mean nerds.

They speak some sort of foreign language that you can only find in science magazines and at “Star Trek” conventions. We have no clue what they’re saying or what it means, and neither do they in most instances, but somehow we can watch and still know what’s going on.

Carruth and David Sullivan play Aaron and Abe, two of the engineers working on this machine. Aaron and Abe work diligently to find investors and experiment with what the contraption actually does. Just like the independent film, the machine is on a budget as its creators make use of a catalytic converter and home refrigerator for parts.

I hate to give anything away, but the duo makes a crucial discovery of the potential for their machine to bend the time-space continuum. As they begin thinking about using the machine to travel back in time, they see their own doubles. So, because they know they end up doing so anyways, they try it.

“I can think of no way in which this thing would be considered even remotely close to safe,” Abe says.

It starts innocently as a science experiment and begins to spin out of control into mutual funds, punching bosses and changing the future. The simple problem is that every time they use the machine, another double is born into the timeline. In the waning moments of the film, space-time spins off its axis creating total anarchy with as many as nine Aarons and seven Abes. More machines sprout up, others begin to use them and we aren’t sure if we’re watching doubles or originals.

In one instance, this paradox of dual existence prompts the humorous line, “Man, are you hungry? I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon.”

If, in your free time, you enjoy philosophy, computers and “Battlestar Galactica,” this film is a must-see. If you’re one of those people who go to movies for escapism or pure entertainment, go see a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

When “Primer” came out in 2004, the buzz on the streets concerned the slim $7,000 budget for a film made entirely on a Macintosh. What people should have been noting, since filmmakers such as Peter Jackson make their films on Macs, is that the budget is more than enough and the film is set in a garage (not to mention that one person almost exclusively made it). “Primer” is a prime example of a movie that should get amateurs out there to make movies. Especially since it took Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

It’s an intelligent movie that engages viewers with time travel, but also manages to stimulate through its methodical visuals. “Primer” especially makes use of depth of field and rack focus by starting shots on inanimate objects and drawing back to the whole picture. A bit fragmented and jumpy, but so is the plot.

Just to keep things somewhat straight (I use the terms “somewhat” and “straight” very loosely here), the film uses Aaron’s voiceover from the future, very similar to “La Jetee,” throughout the film acting as a ninth-person narration to comment on what went wrong.

Just like Aaron and Abe, you must go into “Primer” with no expectations and come out with your mind still running around their contraption and what it means.

Likewise, like Aaron and Abe, you’ll want to experience “Primer” several times before you’re satisfied. The good news is that, if you do experience it several times, you won’t have nine versions of yourself to deal with. Wanna play baseball or something?

– Trevor Kupfer