Still from Primer

My friend Derek is a middle school librarian in Long Island, and the person who first introduced me to library science (so my students can thank or blame him). Anyway, he recently sent me the DVD of Primer & I watched it a couple of nights ago.

I read a review of Primer somewhere that compared it to Memento, but said something like, it makes Memento look straightforward. Yes, except I’d say that Memento is straightbackward. Memento at least has a linear storyline, albeit in the wrong direction. Primer is a time-travel movie, so the storyline loops.

I count 5 loops at least. I won’t give away any more of the plot than that. But I am going to discuss the “reality” of the movie here, so if you really don’t want any spoilers, stop reading now.

Derek wrote me a 6-page letter in which he explains the film, as best as he could understand it (with instructions not to read the letter until after I watched the film at least once), from which I quote:

…the reason the film gets complicated is because of a key plot point involving Carruth’s view of time travel: if you don’t take the proper precautions when traveling to the past, there is a serious risk of creating several copies of yourself (the “you” who is time traveling, and the “you who existed in the point in time to which you travel”).

So, what is the first thing most people are going to want to do if they could travel in time? Fix something that they screwed up in the past, or redo some event better. Sure. The only problem is, if you want to redo some event that you already lived through, you’d better make sure that it’s you doing the do-over, & the previous version of yourself who lived through the event the “first” time is nowhere to be found.

And so… one of the implications of time travel is that you have to start treating yourself (or at least future versions of yourself) as Other. You just can’t know what you might do in the future, even if that future is the present or even the past. And so this gets very dissociative.

Compound this with the fact that other people are also travelling in time. So you can’t really be sure if the person you’re talking to is the “original” version who lived through a time the “first” time, or that same person come back from the future. Or from how far in the future, which is to say, from your past or your future? Do you have the jump on the person you’re talking to, or does he have the jump on you? No way to know. Dissociative and paranoid.