It’s interesting to see how much can be done with a small investment. Obviously, a lot of donated time went to the making of Primer (2004, dir. Shane Carruth). Much of it takes place in a makeshift lab in a garage, where four guys in their off-hours work on various experiments and inventions. They are sober, conventional, semi-geek-like, semi-normal guys. Their experiments involve computers and tables and various chemicals and definitely don’t appear to be high-tech. Except that they are. Two members of the team develop a device, nearly by accident, that allows a kind of time-travel. The device is an unassuming box covered with metal plates. When the inventors climbin, they are able to jump back, or forward (depending on your perspective) in time far enough to learn what certain stocks will sell for, or what team will win the Final Four, and when they return to the present they use the information to make investments that pay off. The problem is, however, that using the boxes creates duplicates of the time travelers, and parallel timelines of causality. The guys at first use their device carefully, but ultimately they grow careless, and a billionaire inventor aka Bill Gates appears to be trying to steal it. Things get complicated.
The film relies on the characters to explain their invention, why it works, and what it means. They’re not even sure what to do with it, and in the end they lose control of the lines of cause and effect it creates. The narrative is too complicated, the science is too obtuse. The characters monologue and mumble so much that it’s difficult to figure out what’s going on. We bog down in the premise and its development.
We have to admire this realistic and minimalist effort to tell an interesting, complicated story on a miniscule ($7,000) budget. The film has no special effects, except the faint whirring sound of the device. But the problem is not the budget--it’s exposition.