Only Theo Panayides Has Wings

This is a blog about Theo Panayides, the cyprustician online critic that writes reviews of movies old and new on his website ( He is very good. In fact, he is awesome. It is also an exercise for my english-writing abilities, as I'm from Brazil.

Location: Goiânia, Goiás, Brazil

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Not So Prim, er...

Much-awaited comments for the Second viewing of "Primer" have arrived. Due to my deep involvement with this motion picture (i.e. due to how much I frickin' love it), I have been moved by an internal, nonsensical and surely naive force to try and defend it from Theo's arguably spot-on criticisms -- much in the same way a mother would try to defend her son from 36 Nazis with machine guns and hand grenades. No further response to the crap I'm about to write is necessary, bud (do it if you'd like, though); it's just an offer for a different (mostly useless and stupid) opinion, just so it's out there and stuff.

Let the embarrassment begin...

[Second viewing (May 2005)

I agree.

not quite the hoped-for revelation,

Oh, well.

though it does almost entirely 'make sense' now.


No doubt it's opaque and hard to follow,

Two viewings and a lot of reading on the Shane Carruth website forum where a bunch of nice science geeks (and a certain dangelo) have thankfully provided extensive analysis on the narrative, the time-frame, how stuff works, etc. I pretty much get it, although a third viewing would seal the deal for good.

which is partly for good reasons and partly for bad;

Agreed, and the bad is what makes the movie lose it's 13 points short of a full 100. Sadly, it did not achieve such heights (it's ok, Shane, forgive and forget), but an 87 is mostly Favorite-material anyway.

the good include Carruth's highly original storytelling style, deliberately dispensing with highlighting or signposting - the most vital scene narrative-wise, the little flow diagram explaining how the Machine works, is easy to miss since it gets the same emphasis as the reams of speculative science stuff

Lord, yes.

Also, let me take a slightly more cliche approach and say that the "narrative implosion" in the last 25 minutes is possibly a "Form IS Content" thing. It makes the audience go through the same the time-whathafucking* and confusion and exhaustion and endless problem-solving that the characters go through. I just felt an enourmous sense of dread troughout this last section in the first viewing, a feeling of having lost control of reality, complete helplessness, getting lost in the mess of paradoxes. And it works on a scene-by-scene basis, even if you're not sure of what is happening. I heard "Time-travel tone poem"** used to describe this last section, which fits pretty well.

the bad mostly have to do with limited resources;


Carruth's own performance lets him down at the pivotal moment when a 'double' is first glimpsed - his reading of "Who was that, Abe?" isn't up to the enormity of the moment (indeed, only on second viewing did I realise who "that" actually was)

I disagree. I must say, that is absolutely my favorite moment in the movie. It's such a sudden break from the reality of the rest of the movie -- the clock and the fungus were ominous but mild -- that its overwhelming. I was actually (yes) moved to tears by this scene, and specially Carruth's restrained but powerfull look on his face and the insecure way he says "Who was that, Abe?", almost as if his voice was failing on him.

I guess the "being moved to tears" part is personal. I just have a thing about movies that suddenly leap to the metaphysical -- like the box in "Kiss Me Deadly" or the tale of the lady with the tiger tail in the middle of "Tropical Malady". It gets to me. Hard.

The real question, however, is what purpose is served by the opacity - and my impression (unlike in, say, MEMENTO) is there's little underlying profundity, just a puzzle to be worked out;

I guess it can feel like that, but for me, the overall impact was so strong that the movie kept bouncing about in my head for days, and consequently, all the possible interpretations and metaphors and intriguing, but barely (or subtly) touched stuff. What kept me going the most was something Ebert mentioned in his review, about how when there are two (or three) Aarons, you don't really know which one is the real one (if there is a "real one"). Is it the one that came first? That got in the machine and went back in time? Or is it the one in the Past-timeline? Does it really matter, if eventually the two will merge again? How must the characters feel in that period of time where there's another one of you living the same day you just did?

I guess it's not of much use, since it's all based on being able to travel in time (although cloning might change that, since it brings up similar implications).

Gotta love that shot, though, where Aaron's driving around in his car through the city, with his arm out the window, feeling incredibly free and (maybe) happy or just plain surreal, like a "miracle" just happened and he's letting it all sink in. Wonderful.

Also, the Trust theme is a "been there, done that" case, but it still mostly works, and the growing tensions between Aaron and Abe are captivating.

even worse, the style works against the most intriguing aspect, which is the banal use to which the Machine is finally put (twisting Time so an engineer can get a moment of glory at a party). The key shot may perhaps be the early one showing the guys brainstorming in one room while Aaron's wife washes dishes in the kitchen next door, both activities given equal value - despite their fancy talk, these are mundane people living mundane lives, which is why they're unable to deal with the forces they unleash; ideally, the film should go the other way, getting simpler and more banal in its final section. Instead, by getting denser and more complex it takes its characters at their own estimation - and, by making the audience struggle to catch up, it makes them look cool, which is (surely) not the point.

Yes, that is the movie's most intriguing aspect, and it's smartest idea, although I disagree that it makes them look cool. By getting into something far more complicated than they could possibly handle, and specially the way Aaron fucks everything up just so he can feel Badass, and how he and Abe spend the last section of the movie like two geeks working desperately on a late physics paper which they completely forgot about but were able to get an extension of 3 hours from a generous (but stern) teacher IS pretty pathetic and sad to me.

I'd say the difference is that Aaron is even worse than the two geeks that forgot about the paper, cause it wasn't the geeks' fault (heck, they get A's in every single test, I'd say they can afford being a little absent-minded, no?). Aaron was just irresponsible and stuff.

There wasn't really a connection for me between how I felt about the character's actions and how Carruth excessively complicates the narrative. The complexity was reflecting their confusion (like I argued above), not their characteristics or abilities. I still go for the growing complexity over diminishing it. And the point the movie makes still feels valid, specially once you get to the anti-climatic scene at the party and see how banal it all really is.

The other thing I liked is the idea that Aaron has a rogue streak of violence (the line about punching his boss, and his wife's surprised reaction) which gets expressed in one of his many 'doubles' - it's like each 'double' is a subtly different version of himself, and the one who gets more of the violent streak ends up taking over the others;

This is why reading Theo pays off. You don't get stuff like this from anyone else. Hadn't thought about it, and never read it anywhere else, but it does make sense, specially in the way that scene in the end plays out, with one Aaron breaking into his own house and beating the first one, then the next Aaron beating the one that beat the first one. Theo's frickin' sharp.

still, there's no doubting Shane Carruth is Man of the Year 2004.]

Plus, he's hot.***

*I invented that term. You're welcome.

**I think it was Shane himself that said it.

***I'm not gay.