Primer (2004), is an 80 minute film that roughly follows the lives a group of engineers after they accidentally discover time travel. This experimental film, created with a $7,000 budget, focuses strongly on lighting, color, and other various cinematography techniques to create a very aesthetically interesting film. The complex technical jargon the characters use throughout the majority of the movie draws the viewer in even further, pulling them into a very complex and thoughtful world.
In Primer, montage is used during many of the scenes that present the “original” and the “double” characters when they’re existing simultaneously. One example is when the assumed “original” drugs and locks the “doubles” in the attic. A collection of metric montage is presented in the scene, the original drugging the double’s breakfast, waiting, fighting with, and locking him in the attic. The passage of time is implied between each shot, showing not only the planning and time it took but also the urgency and precariousness of the character’s actions.
Another example of montage are the times the audio of the characters’ dialogue is played over the visuals being presented. They don’t always seem to match up; the dialogue doesn’t necessarily explain what’s going on in the scene. This occurs in the opening scene, the party, the scene when they’re trying to figure out what to do with Thomas Granger, when they’re drugging the doubles, and the final scenes. This could be seen as an example of tonal/overtonal montage. This montage helps connect the viewer to the overall plot and character’s thoughts, emotions, and motives, however limited and confusing they may seem. The overall montage, tone of the character’s voice, lighting, and soft soundtrack of the scenes nonetheless help connect us to the character on some level.
The color in Primer changes between almost every scene. There is very limited color in the scenes, colors often limited to bright, warm tones, intense greenish-yellows, and stark whites. Each of the color schemes relate to their respective scenes, emphasizing the emotion within them. The tone of light and color in Primer ranges from dull and muted to bright and intense. Like color, the difference in tone also sets the mood of the scene, darker scenes suggesting danger and immorality and brighter ones bringing clarity and a sense of calmness. To achieve these effects, fluorescent and natural lighting were the two main types used in the film, helping to create a very different mood depending on which was being used. In my view, I think the stark contrast in lighting relates to the conflict within the film of science/materialism/the unknown versus people/rationality/morality.
The movement in the film was mostly slow pans of the camera, usually across limited or asymmetrical scenes. The areas of importance in scenes were made sure to be the focus via the surrounding settings. To help achieve that focus, many of the shots in Primer were done from a very limited perspective. For example, the shots through the tiny garage windows, the video feed of the camera in the box, the various scenes of the two characters speaking, in the storage facility, hotel, outside. Camera closeups also helped to emphasize importance. Jittery camera movements and quick switching of shots created a sense of urgency, confusion, and fear.
I think this movie was successful with its explorations of the concept of time travel. It definitely takes more than one viewing to totally grasp what’s going on but overall it was interesting and really captures your attention and curiosity. Considering that in real life we don’t have any remotely definite idea of what time travel is, how it works, what it could be used for, and its implications, I think this film was an interesting glimpse into those ideas. In Primer, time travel affected the characters not only mentally and emotionally, but physically as well, making it hard for them to handwrite and making them bleed from their ears. Not to mention the unexpected things that started happening once they strayed the slightest bit from their original routine. Primer was an intriguing and important look into the fragility and complexity of not only science but human beings and their nature as well.