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Primer Movie – Scene by Scene Explanation

6 June 2005 103 Comments

genetic artThis weekend I rented Primer, an awesome indie film by Shane Carruth that won the Sundance Film Festival and took over my entire weekend. I highly recommend checking it out. The following is my interpretation of the movie. I suggest watching it a few times, with the subtitles on, to ensure you don’t miss anything. Below is my interpretation, I’d suggest watching the movie at least once first, then reading on.

**** DON’T READ ON IF YOU DON’T LIKE SPOILERS ****

Wherever it made sense I’ve differentiated between characters and their doubles by assigning a “revision” number. Other folks have tried to construct distinct timelines to explain the movie but this gets overly complicated and I don’t think this makes sense. We’re given direction that the only timeline that matters is the current one and everytime someone comes back it creates a new “revision”. The only revision that matters is the last one.

The film opens with a phone call being placed. “Hooded sweatshirt” Aaron is on the phone. He’s leaving a message, presumably for the viewer but watching the movie a second time makes me think he may be leaving it for himself. The message begins with “Some of this you know…”.

This message is not part of the tape recordings he gives himself later as it has a phone-ring sound at the start of the message.

After some character development, Abe and Aaron begin the construction on the small box. They test it and it shorts out.

After 3 seconds of blackness, Abe wakes up on the floor. I originally thought something had happened here but I think Shane (the director) is just trying to convey the notion of commitment to the project. This scene also uses jump cuts but they are just to indicate the feeling of getting a phone call when you first wake up, not time travel.

I also like the idea presented in this scene of not being able to relate to the jock-roommates who are watching sports. Aaron asks Abe to meet him at the door to avoid awkward conversation. I can definitely relate.

At this point Aaron suggest getting a steak to eat. He has managed to stabilize whatever they’re working on.

Switch to the garage. The guys discuss the number of volts the machine is drawing. I found this odd. I would have imagined they’d be discussing amps or watts as Volts are not really a measure of power. Anyway. Seems like they have something they can sell but since they didn’t understand it exactly, they decide not to sell it. This is all related to us by hooded Aaron narrating on the same phone message from the beginning of the movie.

The guys (Aaron and Abe) hold parties in order to network/ We learn that Abe has an admirer, Rachel, who’s father (Thomas Granger) is the last hope of funding.

*** TIME TRAVEL BEGINS AROUND HERE ***

The next scene sees Abe on the roof of a building, he’s looking out over the park bench where Aaron is sitting. He’s in the power position denoted by him looking down over the world. He knows how this day will pan out. This is the first time Abe has returned from the future. Let’s call him Abe_1. As we’ll see in a few seconds, there are now 2 Abes in this timeline.

The other thing to notice here is the sound of the ocean and waves as Abe enters the roof. This is an audio cue signifying time travel. We’ll learn this later when Aaron and Abe discuss the dream they each experience whilst in The Box.

Abe_1 approaches Aaron who’s sitting on the bench with a radio earpiece in his ear. He’s listening to NCAA basketball. In the next few scenes Aaron continues to wear this earpiece.

I took note of the neckties they’re wearing to ensure they stayed consistent and we didn’t switch from Abe_1 back to Abe at any point.

Abe wants Aaron to ditch work and go visit Bradshaw, an engineer. On the way out of the office, they split up and Aaron goes to inform Will that a meeting has been cancelled. We learn later that Will is Rachel’s ex-boyfriend’s cousin.

In the next few scenes, Aaron learns that a protein has grown on their weeble. Normally this protein takes a long time to grow, theirs has grown in a short time.

The entire time, Aaron is wearing his radio earpiece in his left ear, the same ear which will later begin bleeding.

It’s 2:05pm when Abe_1 describes to Aaron what’s happening to their Weeble in the small box.

it’s experiencing the same second, over and over again.

We also learn that the original purpose of The Box was to “degrade gravity”. This is not important except that when this audio of Abe talking is played, it sounds distant like it might be on Aaron’s earpiece. This hints, as we’ll learn later, that this might not be Aaron but it might be an Aaron from the future!!! I don’t buy this though as Aaron’s writing (on the pad) is normal. He’s not writing like a baby (we learn later that time travel degrades your handwriting).

Time between the A and B ends of The Box represents 1 minute. If the Weeble enters at the A end spends 1 minute realtime in The Box and leaves at the A end, it’ll experience an even number of minutes, i.e. 1334 minutes in the movie. If it enters at the A end, spends 1 minute in The Box and leaves at the B end it’ll experience an odd number of minutes in The Box. i.e. 1347 minutes in the movie.

They’ve accidentally discovered time travel here and the description is somewhat reminiscent of some of the Quantum mechanics books I’ve come across.

So in the next few scenes, they decide to build a bigger Box so that they can go in and control which end they get out of The Box. Abe_1 plants this idea in Aaron’s mind, a classic “time-travel movie paradox”. So far this is typical Marty-McFly time travel stuff. The basketball scene in the yard ends with Aaron saying “we’re going to have to move it”, Abe_1 responds “We will”.

Next up they’re sitting on the truck bed beside the storage facility. Abe_1 continues to plant the idea of how the machine will be built into Aaron’s mind.

When Aaron says “You know what we could use”, Abe_1 switches from pretending like he’s Abe into the mode of being Abe_1. He knows Aaron is about to see regular Abe (let’s call him Abe_0) enter the facility and he must brace Aaron for what he’s about to see.

Aaron is NOT wearing an earpiece at this point. Again, this indicates he’s regular Aaron, and not an Aaron from the future.

Aaron sees Abe enter the facility. The camera switches to a view of Abe_1 and Aaron watching the facility. This shot hints that they might be being watched by another version of themselves but I think this is another red-herring.

Abe_1 and Aaron enter the facility and wait until Abe_0 has entered The Box. They sit beside The Box in a very poignant moment.

Ok, this is when things begin to get sketchy. Abe_1 and Aaron pull up beside Aaron’s truck in Abe_0’s car. But Abe_0 (not Abe_1) has presumably just driven to the storage facility. Not only are there two Abes, there are two sets of keys for Abe’s car!!!

Aaron says “What did you do all day, the first time through”, indicating that this is not Abe_1’s first time coming back and hence he’s technically not Abe_1, he might be really Abe_n. We can’t know what revision he is though and it’s not important.

Aaron wonders what he did that day and it’s interesting that Abe_1 doesn’t know either although after thinking about this, I don’t think this matters.

During this conversation, the phone rings and Abe_1 answers. It’s Rachel. The fact that the phone rings and he answers is OK as since Abe_0 has entered The Box, then there’s no loop.

Also, at this point, there’s only 1 box in the storage room. I assume though that since this is not Abe_1’s first time through, that he must have built the failsafe device and it must already be running in it’s own storage room.

FAILSAFE SAVE POINT!!!

In the next few days they build a second box (Aaron still doesn’t know about the failsafe) and then prepare for them both to make a trip.

So The Boxes work like this. The second you start The Box (8:45am in this scene) is the time you’ll exit, regardless of when you enter. You must shut The Box off before entering and you must enter before The Box fully winds down. You must also exit The Box right when it’s started, hence the stopwatches and alarms. If you exit too soon, you might go into a coma (I assume). To avoid being at The Box when your double exits, they use timers to give themselves time to leave. The time is set for 15mins and started at 8:30am. When 15mins is up, The Box starts up.

Abe_1 says “There are always leaks”. Not sure what this means but it might be a hint of things to come. Fractures in their relationship and trust.

They drive to Russelfield to check into a hotel. This is to avoid affecting the world whilst they’re traveling back in time. In the hotel they play Scrabble and Aaron tries to use all his letters and place a word that does not exist “Evacipate”.

On the way back to the storage facility, for their first trip, Abe_1 checks the lock on a storage locker. Then moves to the real storage locker. Is this the locker holding the failsafe device? We learn later that the failsafe is in a locker upstairs from this one. Another diversion from Shane.

Right before Aaron enters The Box for the first time, he reads a piece of paper. It roughly reads:
“Rules to Follow to Evade Causality Paradoxes or Generally Screwing Your Life Up”
1. Do not disturb The Box after you exit as you or your double is in it.
2. When re-experiencing time, stay away from your double until he/she has started his/her journey backwards.
3. Worry about yourself first. Now is the only moment that has to make sense.

They enter The Box and we hear faint hint of waves in the distance along with the hum of The Boxes.

They get out just as the machines are starting up, at 8:50am. Abe says he left the machine on since he or his double or “someone” was on the way back. Who’s “someone”?, why would he say that? Did he tell Granger about The Boxes in order to get funding and did he have Mr Granger try one out?

At this point let’s reset and call Abe_1 Abe as the Abe_0/Abe_1 loop has unwound and it doesn’t matter anymore.

They decide to trade some stock and make some money using mid-cap funds to avoid getting caught. Later that day they drive back to the facility, park and watch their double’s going into the facility, just for kicks.

In the next scene, Aaron’s wife Clara complains about rats in their attic. Aaron claims they are birds and to leave them alone. He must know at this point that the noise in the attic is actually his drugged double. If he hadn’t been up in the attic he’d be supportive of getting the exterminator. I mean, who wants rats? This means Aaron at this point MUST be an Aaron from the future.

Aaron also suggests using the time machine to punch out Platt. Another Paradox! He wants to go to see Platt, punch him and then enter The Box, go back in time, go visit his double before punching him and then convince him not to do it. The problem with this is even if he manages to convince himself not to punch Platt, he must also convince his double to go enter The Box. It’s basically an experiment to see what would happen. He’d have punched out Platt and yet not punched him out. There’s no point other than curiosity and the idea has been planted by an Aaron from the future.

The gas-pump scene is when Aaron breaks down a little to Abe, he’s talking about life, the way things have worked out, what if this is your first or second time through etc. One of the great lines in the movie: “What’s worse? Thinking you’re paranoid or knowing you should be?”. I presume he’s talking like this as he’s secretly from the future.

Abe is beginning to suspect Aaron.

In the next scene, they’ve been back through obviously, they’re trading stocks again and discussing telling Aaron’s wife. They decide to not tell Roger and Phillip.

After a few more trips through together and a discussion about Aaron’s dream, Aaron begins bleeding, presumably from excessive time travel or being awake for so long. He’s been traveling through with Abe and also on his own.

In the next scene, Abe is in the garage when Roger and Philip come in. Roger thanks Abe for the present. We learn later on that Abe bought Roger a vinyl record of the “Best of Bread”. Roger states “you guys make fun, but there’s a difference”, implying the superior quality of records over CDs. Roger refers to Aaron as “Hero”. Abe doesn’t notice at first but then realizes. What follows is an explanation of the events of Roger’s birthday party when Aaron rushed Rachel’s ex-boyfriend.

NOTE: Abe wasn’t at the party in this timeline, so he needs Roger to explain the “hero” incident.

Abe didn’t know about the party as Aaron didn’t tell him. The birthday party was on the night when Abe_1 first explained everything to Aaron. Abe_1 and Aaron did NOT go to the party originally. This re-inforces the idea above that Aaron is an Aaron from the future. I’m going to refer to him now as Aaron_x as I’m not sure which revision he is. We learn later that it took more than 1 try to get the Birthday party incident correct. We also learn that even when Aaron_x wasn’t there noone was hurt. Aaron still desires praise so he figures he’ll reverse engineer it by changing how the party plays out.

In the waterfall/garden scene, Aaron_x says “things are different right now”. He’s referring to the power to revise that they now have.

Aaron_x and Abe are in the hotel room when Aaron_x’s cell goes off. He answers the phone and it’s Kara.

They go back. There’s a great line in next scene. They’re sitting in a room, Abe is meticulously slicing a cupcake and Aaron_x says “Are you hungry? I haven’t eaten since later on today”. It’s also interesting that although Abe and Aaron_x are watching a sports game, they both know the outcome. They’re clearly not following the original rules of switching everything off and unplugging stuff.

They go for food and are walking down the street at the same time when the original phone call was placed by Kara. Aaron_x took the phone with him (by mistake) and it goes off again. Thus, the question, did it really go off in the hotel room? And did he answer it? Another paradox.

Next things get sketchy. Abe is woken by a car alarm. He decides to do an experiment, to go back in time with Aaron_x and prevent himself being woken by preventing the alarm going off. Thus creating another paradox.

He tries to tempt Aaron_x into going along with this by offering him the Platt face-punch. Abe also reveals he’s been turning The Boxes on at 5pm. This is bad as he’s didn’t tell Aaron_x and he’s potentially using the boxes without Aaron_x’s knowledge.

They leave and notice Granger is following them. They call Granger’s house, he’s there! This means that Granger has gone back in time and the future Granger (Granger_1) is in the car. They give chase and Granger_1 falls in to a coma when Abe gets near him.

Something has happened between Abe and Granger. They’re asking “what did he change?” They might be referring to Granger here or the might even be referring to a revision of Abe!. Abe decides he must use the failsafe machine. The failsafe’s been running for 3 days 22hours when Abe uses it.

Let’s now call Abe from the future Abe_2. The next few scenes are pivotal.

Abe_2 goes back and gases Abe_1 whilst Abe_1 is asleep!!! Abe_2 then attempts to meet Aaron on the parkbench as Abe_1 originally did. He passes out as he’s just spent 4 days in The Box.

Aaron is no longer Aaron_0. He’s a revision from the future. We know this as Aaron is listening to a tape and responding according to the tape.

“At this point there would have been some…discussion”.

Abe want to know “how”. The how here is how everything has happened, here’s my take:

After originally meeting Abe_1 on the parkbench, Aaron saw the manifest and found out about Abe’s failsafe. Aaron decided to take a box with him through the other box thus creating 4 boxes and his own failsafe. In order to get back to a point before the parkbench, he must have used the failsafe, hence breaking the original assumption that they are single use only.

At this point he had lost trust in Abe and was operating alone.

Aaron then went into a loop of trying to be a hero at the birthday party. He recorded the days events just in case his first attempt at the party failed, attended the party by himself (without Abe), tried to rush the ex-boyfriend but things went wrong. So he had to try again.

In order to try again, it meant going back to that morning, then playing things out just perfect so that the party would still have a scuffle. He’d use the audio tape for this.

The problem was that the party was on the same day that Aaron originally met Abe at the bench. It wasn’t a day when Aaron had been stuck in a hotel as with the other days. So Aaron had to somehow take his own place that day.

The second time through, he meets the “Hooded Aaron” who is the one who has used the failsafe. This failsafe was setup when Aaron took a box back through the other box (after finding Abe’s failsafe).

The hooded Aaron has already drugged his double and put him in the attic. We know he came through one of the failsafes as his beard has a few days growth on it. Hooded Aaron leaves as his whole intent was to record the days events and become the hero at the party.

So things play out from here. Abe is now Abe_2 from a few days in the future and Abe_1 has been gassed and is stuffed in a room adjoining a bathroom. Abe_2 doesn’t know that Aaron0 is in the attic!

Original Aaron0 is up in the attic.

Aaron in the white-shirt has been looping through this day for a while, trying to get the hero thing to work. He knows Aaron_0 is in the attic and hence tells Kara that the rats in the attic are really birds.

There’s also hooded shirt revision of Aaron who has just left! I guess he’s gone off somewhere.

They both continue repeating this day until it comes off just fine. We even see Abe with his own recording at the party. The best part is that nothing happened originally when they weren’t there, or maybe it did, we don’t know. Perhaps it always did and when Roger explains to Abe_1 in the garage, Roger actually saw Abe_2 at the party with Aaron!

In the end, we see a version of Aaron talking to Abe_2 at the airport. Abe2 has found out about Aaron in the attic. He’s pissed. He decides to send Aaron on his way and stay and watch over Aaron0 and Abe_1 to ensure they never build these boxes.

We later see either Aaron or hooded Aaron in France building a room-sized box.

Some final thoughts: It’s interesting that Abe is the first to go through The Box and the name “Abraham” means “Father of Many”.

I’m not sure this explanation works, but it seems the movie is left open to interpretation. It’s a puzzle. Feel free to post your comments. Overall this is a movie about friendship, greed, control, power and trust just as much as it is about time.

103 Comments »

  • steven said:

    thanks for that.. explained like a champ

  • Marly said:

    Best explanation Ive read so far…

  • Santhosh said:

    Wow. Ive seen the movie twice for now and your scene-by-scene explanation is clear.
    Thanks.
    “Primer” has got a huge repeat-watch value.

  • Samael said:

    A winner is you. That was awesome.

  • Matt said:

    I agree with every one of your observations. Very clear and well done!

  • Mitch said:

    I think there is another subplot here, which is Abe_2 and Hooded Aaron, and possibly Granger, in a competition to squeeze the other inventor out by going back in time earlier than the others… that is why they were trying to stay in the box so long. There were many comments about them trying to go further back in time and failing. Aaron in France trying to build a huge box could have been doing this. Also, I think hooded Aaron was trying to impress Rachel at the party because he no longer would have his wife, who belonged to
    Aaron_0.

  • Sil Dante said:

    Thanks. But one thought… “What did you do all day, the first time through”… meaning, what did you do all day… the first time through the day. I think the first time we see two Abes was the first instance of time travel.

  • Anthony said:

    About their original experiment, it looked to me like it was a simple relativity experiment. Since theyre decreasing the mass, it must be being turned into kinetic energy. So what they are doing is accelerating the particles to some fraction of the speed of light, converting mass into energy by the simple e=(gamma)mc^2. this acceleration is what allows for the continuous looping experienced by whatevers in the machine. thats my take.

  • medracer said:

    what about the phone ringing we hear during the first board meeting

  • Bart said:

    Just so I can be clear on the concept of doubling…

    say Abe0 gets into the box on Wednesday morning and exits on Tuesday morning the day before.. so for Tuesday there are 2 Abes in the world, but they dont both continue to exist because Abe0 must get in the box Wednesday morning so he can exit it Tuesday morning as Abe1, ie on Wednesday there is still only one Abe in existance, not two.

    So then, does the concept of permanent doubles assume that if Abe1 stopped Abe0 from entering the box that he would continue to exist anyway, ie two permanent Abes?

  • Francis said:

    Yup, thats it Bart at least as I understand it. Ive also read elsewhere that the coma in Granger when he comes close to Abe is induced because Abe is the one who told Granger about the box. When Granger goes back and tries to prevent Abe from entering the box, it invalidates his timeline, thus creating a paradox and hence the universe continues on and in Shanes words “youre the one wholl suffer, not the universe”.

  • Jon said:

    Great explanation. That really helped a lot. One little note though (and a very picky one at that): volts have to do with potential energy which is what a battery is. Abe was only showing Aaron that there was still power going through the box even though there werent any batteries connected to it. I guess that was the obvious point, but volts have a lot to do with power output.

  • Rochelle said:

    I watched Primer for the first time prior to reading your summation. After reading your first-rate analysis, I felt a second viewing was necessary to fully comprehend this splendid film. Thank you!!!

  • B said:

    it is also worth pointing out that this superb film was made for a mind-boggling $7000(!?!).

  • A said:

    I am still SO confused. Im on the fence about this movie, even though I loved Mulholland Drive, and Songs From The Second Story. Is there somewhere else I can try to get this explained to me? Just how many Abes and Aarons are there at the end of the movie? Is that only something that can only be assumed? HELP!

  • Indrid Cold said:

    Excellent job! I love it when a complex movie is well explained like this because it only makes me enjoy it more.

  • John said:

    I have a quick question. After Abe1(?) and Aaron0(?) see Abe(0) walking back in with his single oxygen tank, Aaron0 comments on what did Abe1 do with his day. Abe1 states that he spent time in the hotel. Then Aaron0 (supposedly) says, “I wonder what I did all day” and NOT “I wonder what I will do all day”. Doesnt this imply that Aaron0 on the park bench never really was an original Aaron. And it that case, that would mean that Aaron had a failsafe that is reset before Abes. Is this idea possible?

  • Jason said:

    I had only one problem with the film: At the end (in the airport) Abe_2 is telling Aaron_n that he will keep Abe_0 from creating a box that will work. How can Abe_2 be in a time where there is not a working box already? What box did he come out of? As I understand it, it would not be possible to exit a box in a time earlier than the first box was created.

  • Jasonix said:

    Umm, but you forget, the timeline twists back, eliminating… oh who really cares? It is just a movie folks!

  • Darin said:

    Even the explination is confusing. But I gald I have something to help me with the plot. I had NO idea that Arron was building a bigger box at the end. Ill be watching it again tonight.

  • lance said:

    On 7/11 Jason wrote: “I had only one problem with the film….”
    Im not sure, but perhaps it works like this. Abe_0 turns on the failsafe for the first time, say at 5 a.m., and goes and sits in his car. Abe_2 pops out of the failsafe at 5:05 a.m. and then disables the failsafe. Abe_0 doesnt know that the failsafe has been disabled and that Abe_2 is lurking around. At 8:30 a.m. of the same day, Abe_0 turns on the timer of the normal box (box_0) and then heads for the hotel. At this point Abe_2, who has been lurking around the storage facility, disables box_0. There are now no functioning boxes. When Abe_0 gets into box_0 later in the day, it doesnt work. He lies in the box and eventually climbs out. So, now there is a frustrated Abe_0 who wonders why box_0 didnt work and an Abe_2 who is monitoring Abe_0. Whenever Abe_0 tries to make a functioning box, Abe_2 comes along afterwards and disables it, etc.

  • lance said:

    Mitch wrote about “a competition to squeeze the other inventor out by going back in time earlier than the others… Aaron in France trying to build a huge box could have been doing this.” But if Aaron was in France (on say 7/20) after the airport conversation with Abe_2 (on say 7/11), then the earliest time Aaron could go back to is 7/20. That is, the earliest time that anyone can go back is the first time that a box was turned on. There is no way to go back, say, 10 years before Abe first discovered the time travel.

  • Another Jason said:

    lance, you have a valid point. Aaron couldnt be trying to squeeze Abe out directly. But maybe hes trying to go back to the original plan (hopefully being more careful) of making enough money to push Abe out by more conventional means (like mercenaries).

    Also, if you listen to the director comments on the DVD, Abes gasmask contains nitrous oxide. This wouldnt knock out or kill the gassed Abe. It would make him dreamy, etc., but still able to fight back or at least move. If he left the mask on, it would kill him (asphyxiation: you need 30% oxygen). But we only see him put on the mask for a few seconds.

  • Ellen said:

    Wow! What a disappointment. They had a great concept for a movie but never clearly explained it in the movie itself. The only way I knew it was about time travel is because I read the movie case before renting it. If you liked this one, then you will like PI, another bad one.

  • Greg said:

    I havent read all of the comments, so this has to do with the orginalpost. You are missing a huge part in the beginning. Where we see both of them using the diagram that was sent back. They use it in the very begining because theyre tring to get the other two off the project. You see it several times in the scenes. Then it burns out. Then I think we jump to the orginal time but you see Aaron with the earpiece. Then you see the orginal oringal without the diagarm or the earpiece. when we see them after they get their drink and are sitting outside the U-Store it place.

  • Calinerti said:

    evacipate -to undo the consequences of your actions by changing the original circumstances. To erase ones own history

  • Sstravis said:

    i really liked the explanation. Thnak you. I just want ti add an idea. I think that the modular design of the boxes is a way to travel before any box exists. I mean, if you switch on box_1 and box_2 and get box_1 inside box_2 (both are on) in one minute inside the box_2, will have passed 1347 minutes inside the box_1. So if you get the box_1 inside the box_2 enough time, you could travel back a lot of time, even before any box were built. The question would be… Where would you appear if there´s no box?And ¿Had aaron or abe travelled to re-design the box or to change something in general?Maybe. My english is not very good so i hope you all understand me

  • John said:

    I dont think there is anyway to travel back in time before the first box was activated regardless of putting boxes inside of boxes. Also, when they are looping the party how do they not run into the other instances of themselves? I understand not seeing Abe0-Abe1 or Aaron0-Aaron2, but if they looped the party multiple times doesnt that mean that their are more Abes and Aarons out there that they had to convince not to go the party? I know trying to rip apart all of the details isnt really the whole point of this movie, but I just had a hard time understanding that part. Also, is ther anything to the names Aaron and Abe besides that they are alphabetically the first two names for boys?

  • David G said:

    Thank you for the complex explanation. I had the idea that in the final version of the party, whichever Aaron was there when we actually see the party dies, and later one of the Aaron revisions is going away because he can no longer have contact with anyone who has seen him die. I got this from the narration, which seemed (to me) that something bad was going to happen at the party which could not be undone. This is probably too big a stretch.

  • Hidely said:

    The reason their handwriting is degrading (imo) is because after travelling, theyre mirror images. Writing with their left hands instead of their dominant right.

    Thoughts?

  • AmyT said:

    I agree with the mirror image theory and the hadnwriting – I came up with the same theory myself…

  • Rachel said:

    Does anyone really have a clue in hell what this damn movie is about? Im sorry but the explanation I just read is really no clearer than the movie I just watched right before. Maybe another revision of me will understand, but Rachel_0 is LOST! Please someone help me.

  • TheDragon said:

    Theyre NOT mirror images of themselves. The box isnt a mirror cloning machine, it takes them back. Theyre not changed. Theyre always Abe and Aaron. Theyre probably starting to suffer from some sort of brain damage. Hence the bleeding from the ears. Plus, theyre not writing with their left hands when we see the poor handwriting.

  • TheDragon said:

    In response to:
    Ellen [1/2/2006 9:02:00 AM]
    Wow! What a disappointment. They had a great concept for a movie but never clearly explained it in the movie itself. The only way I knew it was about time travel is because I read the movie case before renting it. If you liked this one, then you will like PI, another bad one.

    Wow. Youre pretty dense. Pi is a fantastic movie that is easier to make sense of than Primer, and its so ridiculously obvious that theyd built a time machine. “For the amount of protein that I brought him, what we were whiping off every five days it would have take five years to build up.” Then they talk about their most logical next step. Putting watches inside the machine. HOW SLOW CAN YOU BE TO NOT PICK UP THAT THIS IS A REFERENCE TO TIME TRAVEL?

  • Tulsa TV said:

    The mirror image theory occurred to me as well. However, most humans are highly asymmetrical, and this would probably be noticeable.

    But more importantly, specifically left and right-handed molecules are part of normal physiology. To be reversed at the atomic level would mean that without special nutritional supplements, you would die.

    I remember an SF story from the 60s about this, possibly Asimov.

  • TulsaTV said:

    The story was “Technical Error” (1946)by Arthur C. Clarke in his “Reach for Tomorrow” collection.

    The story coincidentally(?) also featured superconductors:

    “During the last phases of construction, a huge supercooled superconducting generator is accidentally given a surge of current. At that moment, an engineer is at the center of its field and is somehow flipped about his central left-right plane.”

  • TulsaTV said:

    Just reread the story, and a time displacement occurs, too.

  • Verne the nerd said:

    I watched this thing and enjoyed it. I did not follow it, understand it, and was left confused. Somehow I still enjoyed it. I read your explanation and still dont get. Now I feel like a real dumb ass. This movie is like the meaning of life, nobody knoews it yet they live it. What a weird ride.

  • Dallas said:

    this guy did a really poor explanation of the movie, and added his own geek relations, like the movie somehow specifically means something special to him, or refers to him in a personal manner. MANY better explanations out there ;)

  • Rizza said:

    to Jasonix:

    Jasonix [7/11/2005 4:07:00 AM]
    Umm, but you forget, the timeline twists back, eliminating… oh who really cares? It is just a movie folks!

    this is true, it is only a movie, and this happens to be a really good movie that alot of people like and are at least interested in. there is no crime in talking about it. it is a complex movie, and people want to discuss it. it is not pandering to do so. its also ok if you do not want to discuss it further, the simply do not visit this site and post. makes no sense. perhaps Home Alone parts 1-3 would be more your alley, they require no thinking.

  • citizenblank said:

    Great job. Thanks for writing this explaination. It really cleared things up and pointed important stuff out. It seems like a lot of people hate this movie…I guess because it is so hard to follow. I must admit that Primer really frustrated me, but I really wanted to understand it. After the initial frustration, trying to understand it became really fun and interesting. Anyway, I think this movie deserves more credit.

  • thad said:

    Just a thought…while everyone is trying to figure out the exact sequence of events they are forgetting the underlying moral issues created by a time machine. As we can see, the machine creates a vicious circle, one that cannot be stopped or controlled. Greed, pride, perhaps lust, certainly envy, and a multitude of nasty emotions arise because two people invent absolute power. Perhaps thats the real story…

  • Pol said:

    I really like Mino’s explanation. However, I have a few questions. By the way, I’ve seen the movie only 3 times, so there are maybe some parts I just didn’t catch yet…

    1- If Aaron2 is the narrator, the one which left after fighting with Aaron3, how could he know about Granger incident? This part is not just shown tu us, it is commented by the narrator.

    2- I think I remember hearing Aaron telling Abe that the party took place on the same day Abe told him about the machine. So, it would be evening of day 1, and not day 2. Am I right?

    3- After Abe used the FailSafe machine (or the substitution machine placed by Aaron), they plan toghether what to do at the party. I think this is just before the basketball scene. Aaron says: “He didn’t shoot when I went alone, and according to what Robert(?? not sure it’s Robert) says, he didn’t shoot either tonight.” If this is really Aaron3 there, why does he have te relate to someone else’s saying? He LIVED twice the party, even if one of the timelines is now “invalidated” (Aaron2 left the town, so he doesn’t go to the party)?

  • steambadger said:

    “Also, is ther anything to the names Aaron and Abe besides that they are alphabetically the first two names for boys?”

    Somebody else has already pointed that ‘Abraham’ means ‘father of many’, and that the Biblical Abraham was the father of the Hebrews. Extending the OT metaphor further: Aaron, in the Bible, is the brother of Moses. He actually gets to go to the Promised Land, while Moses does not. Interesting in light of the fact that the movie’s Aaron is the one who’s building the giant box at the end.

  • MM4L said:

    I really appreciate this explaination. I enjoyed the movie a lot. It was a departure from so many typicl Hollywood fluff Sci-Fi films (like Hollow Man) that a pure pablum.. everything is laid out like the viewers are 4th graders. If you didn’t like this film and Momento.. maybe you should stick to “reality TV” and Love Boat re-runs!

    At least this movie makes you think. I know there were a few loose sends (like the Granger plot), but overall, I appreciate having a bit of a puzzle to solve rather than having a simple bedtime story. Kudos to Shane Carruth. Well written, well acted, well directed. Thanks to Francis for putting together this blow-by-blow. It will make my 2nd viewing a real treat.

  • Keith Bradshaw said:

    When they say “there are always leaks” they are referring to the argon pressurization of the boxes…that is why they have the straps around the boxes they have to tighten to make them airtight.

    I played Bradshaw in Primer.

  • Mike said:

    I loved this movie. “Revolver” is another one that’s pretty mind blowing.. also “Southland Tales” is pretty awesome as well and might as well throw in “The Nines” :)

    “Pi” was definately cool even though someone on this board said it sucked.

    I like tripped out movies like this.. anybody have any other ideas for movies that make you think?

  • William said:

    In the scene where Abe has used the failsafe and is attempting to speak, with his earpiece, to Aaron (who has also used the failsafe and is using an earpiece), Aaron realizes that Abe has used the failsafe and figures it’s okay to tell Abe about what he did so they don’t make copies of themselves by not following their old histories.
    Next, Aaron doesn’t see himself at the party when he tries to change events because he sees himself before the party. He tells himself what went wrong the previous night, then the one he told goes to the party and tries to do it right. When he does it wrong, he time travels back and tells himself what went wrong again and goes on his way. I believe this is why there is an extra Aaron the second time it shows Aaron drugging himself.
    Note: The only time a copy can be made is when the original is prevented from going back in time.
    Finally, putting one box in another would only get you stuck. Start box 1, put box 1 in box 2. wait. get in box 2, you start going back. get in box 1. now when box 2 gets back to its original time, then begins heading back towards the time you got into it. you are still in box 1. box 1 gets back to its original relative time while you are heading back to the time you got in. You are stuck in there until A) the ending times of both boxes finally coincide, B) you get out of the boxes before time travel has finished and experience severe (times two because of 2 boxes), or C) Die.

  • tantric said:

    I’ve only watched this once, so bear with me…When they are in the airport, are they not talking about making copies of their SO’s? Were they not going back in time and screwing with their own machine to delay the creation of that machine, so that they could exist for longer periods of time? My first analysis of this movie was that it was conflict between copies and originals – the duplicates don’t want to go back, so they screw with themselves. Then they are jealous that the originals have their loved ones and lives, and start replacing themselves. This gets utterly out of hand, until they prevent the creation of the machine that created them, thus ensuring their continued existence – and they they go to France or wherever and start it up again.

    Also, they never created the original PVC cage machine – they didn’t build it, they found it. It was never built – it’s modularity is so that it was deconstructed and brought back through itself to make copies. It was made in a time loop that was deconstructed by duplicating it. This is why there are two machines in the storage unit when they find it – there’s no reason to build two cages to test the machine, but a single machine can’t appear out of nowhere by itself. I’m aware that this makes no casual sense whatsoever, and I’ve been awake for three days at this point.

  • tantric said:

    Am I watching a different version of this movie? I’ve looked at it several times, and they simply do not actually build the cages. At first there is one, then when they need two, there are two. My admittedly sleep deprived thought is that once the theory of time travel is understood, casuality is gone. It is then inevitable that the past will be altered and that there will be duplicates. Thereafter the machines are sui generis – after all, the machine doesn’t transport itself back in time, it’s already there, you just come out of it in the past. After the first machine is activated (the watch experiment), linear time is gone and everyone who understands the theory is doomed to build time machines in order to go back into the past so that they can prevent themselves from building time machines, which is the only way to secure their own existence.

  • TheBigBangTheory said:

    The voice narrating it all is Aaron calling himself all before all of this all happens. That is why he was never concerned with the phone calls in his pocket because he knew his duplicates would answer the phone appropriately. I have read several peoples ideas on their take. This is what happens. Aaron goes back. Calls himself in the past and tells him “Hey, guess what? Abe’s gonna show you a time machine. Then he’s gonna go all crazy and stuff. This is what you gotta do.”

    The reason this film works so well with these paradox thoughts is because it really happened. Halon and Haloff!!! The Halon did not just break. They just haven’t fine tuned the missing parts that were taken on side B.

  • mave said:

    Thanks for the explanation – I totally didn’t get that the first time around. After watching the movie again – after reading this I made a few more observations.

    1) When Abe takes Aaron to the lab to learn about the protein and they step into the cold room – Aaron is already wearing his earpiece. This has to mean that he has somehow found a way to go further back in time than when the machine was originally built. He might have done this using the bigger box in France. So let me call him Aaron_f.

    2) Based on 1. the scene of Abe waking up with the phone call – actually happened twice and slightly differently each time. Once with Aaron and then with Aaron_f. That is why the jump cuts.

    3) When Aaron’s wife eats ice from the fridge – Aaron says they should throw the first few batches away. Why – because its a new blue colored refrigerator. Why was this scene there? Does it have anything to do with taking the copper tubing and freon and disabling the white refrigerator a few scenes later? Maybe its just a red herring.

  • Nick said:

    Mave: Interesting observations — especially number 3!! I thought about it and Aaron seems really worried about the video camera being destroyed, but shows little concern about his car or his fridge. It makes sense if he’s using the camera to record his past interaction, in addition to recording all his conversations on tape.

  • John said:

    All great posts! I’ve watched the movie twice now, with a bit of Internet reading in between. It’s a fantastic movie.

    I want to say something about the ending and its potential implications. Whichever Aaron is concocting the gigantic time machine in France, I can’t help wondering: Is the machine somehow going to allow him to travel further back in time than Abe’s very first trip through the Box? And if so – if Aaron successfully goes further back – did that Aaron, via the French Box, reverse engineer all of the events throughout the entire movie’s plot?

  • Martino said:

    I wonder why nobody seemed to notice that the basic idea behind “Primer” was explained in detail by David Deutsch in his “Fabric of Reality”, Ch.12 (1997). It’s all there!

  • tanya said:

    Re: The Ice….
    1. Wife is simple/childlike. This is important, as she will have to be a bit dim-witted enough not to see the doubles here, there, everywhere.
    2. Wife launches an important theme of the film. Wife is silly to think that by changing the *form* of the ice (from cubes to crushed) she can somehow change its *nature*. Toxic is toxic.
    3. A bonus in this same scene: Wife is wishing husband could please do more and more (ala Multiplicity). Sadly, more daddy/husbands are not a good thing.

  • adam p said:

    just wondering why nobody has mentioned (either abe or aron i cant remember) falling out of the attic. This has obviously caused a problem because there is an extra aron or abe going around when they should still be sadated up in the attic

  • zorgon the malevolent said:

    Some folks have mentioned that they don’t think it’s possible to travel back in time to a point before the machines were built. However, we know that it’s possible because in the very last scene, Abe is talking about preventing his double from inventing the machines. So in the last scene both Aaron(n) and Abe(n)[I’m not sure which rev they are!] have clearly travelled back in time to a point before their doubels build the machines.

    So how’s that possible?

    It’s possible because of multiple timelines. Aaron(n) and Abe(n) come from a timeline where their past selves built the machines at point X, but when they travel back, their doubles in the new timeline build the machines at point X + (let’s say, a month, or whatever). Causality is conserved within each timeline, but not between the timelines.

    So if Abe delays his double building the time machine for a year, he can go back to a year before the machine exists. If he delays his double for 5 years, he can go back to 5 years before the machine exists. And so on.

    What I don’t get is why they didn’t recursively crank up the stock market manipulation. Like so: go back in time and make (say) $10,000 on margin in one day. Now cash out that $10,000 and take it back in time with you and invest it. Now you’re making (whatever, say) 10 times that $10,000. Then you loop it again. It doesn’t very long to build up billions.The big problem then becomes creating the illusion that the money appeared legitimately.

  • vik said:

    ok the movie on a very superficial level works. But things just go out of control when aaron witnesses the 2nd abe in the storage facility. Now if abe1 enters point a and leaves point b and abe2 then abe1 is always seperated from abe2 by x minutes. There is no way they can exist in the same timeframe as they are always seperated by x minutes. So how did abe1 and abe2 come in the same frame when aaron witnesses one of the abes in the storage facility, this seems to propogate through out the movie. My point being there is no way any duplicates can meet with each other due to the lag in time.

  • David said:

    I just bought and rewatched the movie concurrently with this explanation. It seems to make more sense now, a few questions:

    1. How did Aaron go back to be the hero at the birthday party? Did he use his failsafe machine? If it did, wouldn’t his explanation of his actions at the party reveal its existance to Abe?

    2. Did Aaron use Abe’s failsafe to bring his own failsafe back in time?

    3. When does Aaron record his conversations? (After the first time he goes through and replaces himself?) Is the Aaron in the first scene on the park bench the original Aaron?

  • David said:

    1. How did Aaron go back to be the hero at the birthday party? Did he use his failsafe machine? If it did, wouldn’t his explanation of his actions at the party reveal its existance to Abe?

    2. Did Aaron use Abe’s failsafe to bring his own failsafe back in time?

    3. When does Aaron record his conversations? (After the first time he goes through and replaces himself?) Is the Aaron in the first scene on the park bench the original Aaron?

  • Keelaay said:

    My problem remains my confusion with both Aarons and Abes apparently going back to a timeline before the first box (failsafe) was created. For example Abe is explaining the weebles and watches to Aaron after the first park bench seen. Aaron calculates numbers in his head way to quickly and is snapping his pliers impatiently because he talking thru a conversation he has already heard. But how in the world did either Aaron or Abe travel back to a time prior to figuring out the concept of the machine with their watches?? Maybe Zorgon is on to something…

  • Kanef said:

    “Not only are there two Abes, there are two sets of keys for Abe’s car!!!”

    Abe’s car keys and Aaron’s cell phone would only be duplicated if they carried them into the box with them. The first time they use the pair of boxes together, Aaron says he wants to do it exactly the way Abe successfully did it. Both men enter the boxes wearing T-shirts, boxers, and socks, which we can assume is standard procedure. I assumed they left their clothes, cell phones, and keys lying on the floor of the storage room. How does Aaron accidentally leave his phone in his pocket?

    The more I think about it, the less sense it makes, unless they bundle up their clothes and put them inside the box, having taken them off just for comfort and not because there’s no room or they’ll interfere. (But these are guys who wear ties in their off hours, tucking them into their shirts if they become hazards.) If they leave their clothes outside the box in the afternoon, they won’t be there waiting for them in the morning, for the same reason Abe didn’t find his car where he’d parked it in the afternoon.

  • keelaay said:

    The plot twists and complexities in Primer work beautifully on alternating levels of expectation, logic and suspense as Mr Carruth has so painstakenly insured. But do they hold up on a human or character level? In order to piece together the complex puzzle made up of Abes(n) and Aarons(y), Mr Carruth has ingeniously concocted multiple timelines with complex revelations of earlier and earlier trips through the box while Aaron tries to get one loop up on one or another generation of Abe or Aaron or some combination thereof. But even if one finally understands and presumably accepts the complex and unexpected jumps and loops in logic, the audience need also ultimately believe in Abe’s and Aaron’s characters and behavior.

    I unfortunately, upon reflection, do not. For example, I do not believe that Abe(0) was reckless enough, or brave enough, to jump into the time machine by himself on day 0 (or day -something depending on how you are counting) and then six hours later (earlier) purposefully meet and try to influence who he thinks is Aaron(0). That’s because the story simultaneously presents each of these early generation Aarons and Abes as engineers who are careful enough to spend these same days in hotel rooms in isolation together in order to avoid any chance of contact with their duplicates and thus avoid any causality paradoxes. But hell, they are purposefully seeking and hanging out with different generations of each other from day 0 — so how can their characters simultaneously give a shit about causality and hole themselves up in hotels to preserve it? Also, I don’t buy that Abe, nor anybody else for that matter, could have been clever or forward thinking enough to set up the fail safe before his first trip. Ya, maybe after a few trips he might have started sensing the potential for doom and need for a fail safe — but before the first trip? With a technology he doesn’t even yet understand?? The fail safe is indeed critical for the story to hold up logically, but I just don’t believe Abe could have plausibly anticipated what he was getting into before trip 1.

    While Mr Carruth’s complicated timelines are ingeniously congruous, his portrayals of Abe and Aaron are internally inconsistent — both in character and in time. Abe’s and Aaron’s characters are simultaneously naive, careful, cunning, trusting, backstabbing, prescient, and unknowing, all from, on, and back to day 0. This morality tale of a friendship devolving into selfishness, recklessness, hubris and deep immorality is short circuited because the logic twists of the story place the near entirety of Abe’s and Aaron’s devolution somewhere between day 0 and day 1. We must thus believe that neither Abe nor Aaron were ever who they were to start with…

  • Elton said:

    Great write-up Francis. I finally just saw Primer last night and your explanation makes a lot of sense to me.

  • keelay said:

    PLEASE HELP! My problem remains my confusion with both Aarons and Abes apparently going back to a timeline before the first box (failsafe) was created. The scene that I cant get my arms around is when Aaron and Abe are testing their watches and figuring out the weebles in the garage after the first park bench seen. This is when they figure it out the thing is a time machine, right? But Aaron calculates numbers in his head way to quickly and is snapping his pliers impatiently apparently because he talking thru a conversation he has already heard. Then they walk out on the driveway and commit to building the box, right? But Abe has already gone back in the box once because this is after the park bench scene, right?? So how in the world could either Aaron or Abe travel back to a time prior to figuring out the concept of the machine with their watches and prior to when the decide to build a box?? It seems to me that the box has not been created yet so these must be first gen. Aarons and Abes. But it’s after the park bench encounter… I know I must be missing something obvious. Please help!!

  • Carson said:

    Keelay, this isn’t before the time machines existed. Remember how Abe was telling the engineer and biologist to re-explain it to Aaron, as if it was the first time through? They weren’t “figuring out” it was a time machine–Abe already knows it’s a time machine, and he already built a human-sized box and used it. This is his second time through–he’s breaking it to Aaron slowly. The park bench scene is when we first see the “new” Abe, and while he is teaching Aaron that it’s a time machine, “old” Abe is traveling backwards through his time machine (which yes, already exists).

    The time machines cannot go back to before they were built. The only time the can go back to, is the moment they were turned on.

    It doesn’t really make sense because when they put the watches into the box for one minute, they cycle through the time-frame that they are in the box around 1300 times–the watches experience 1300 minutes but only travel forward (or backward) one minute. If they left the watch in for two minutes, it would experience 2600 minutes–Abe and aaron spent six hours in the box and traveled a total of six hours. If they experienced six hours in the box, they should have only moved through time by a little under .3 minutes. If they traveled six hours, they should have experienced 7800 hours in the box.

    The part that loses me about this movie is what happened at the party that made Aaron 2 say “I can almost sleep at night if it would have only taken one more time.” Was the latest revision of Aaron killed? Also, I don’t know what they fought about at the airport.

  • Roberto said:

    OK – here is the way I see it.

    The key to this film is in the motivations of the 2 lead characters, and these are largely laid out during the first 15 minutes.

    Abe is methodical and cautious – he makes lists. He makes sure that everything is hooked up correctly before he lets Aaron throw the switch. He is concerned about causality and formulates elaborate plans to ensure that he doesn’t interact with his double. He has a checklist of rules for not “screwing up your life”. He is also a humanist, and he objects to Robert and Philip being cut out of the deal. He also objects to Aaron not telling Kara about the box. He may have a crush on Kara – he certainly goes out of his way to make sure that Aaron does not damage their lives (scene at the airport near the end).

    Aaron is paranoid and wants to cut everyone out of the deal including his family, Robert, Philip, and eventually Abe. He is obsessed with being the hero at the party when Rachel’s old boyfriend pulls a shotgun. He leaves his family without a qualm in the final scene – and is seen setting up a much larger box at the end for reasons of his own.

    Abe is responsible for figuring out how the box works and spends “weeks turning into months” on the task. He does figure it out, but does not tell Aaron immediately. He is concerned about causality and anticipates how things might get out of control. Before he ever uses the box for the first time, he creates a fail-safe box and sets it running (let us call this time: Point Zero). This will allow him to go back to before the start of serious experimentation and erase everything if things get out of control. When he has the fail-safe in place, he builds a second box and tries it out at least once – likely multiple times – before telling Aaron. He has seen how Aaron cut Robert and Philip out of the deal and is already suspicious of him – even though they are still friends and partners.

    Abe tells Aaron and they begin to use the box seriously. About this time, Aaron starts trying to be the hero at Robert’s party, and makes at least one (possibly multiple) solo attempts to alter the past. Aaron goes to the storage locker on his own for these attempts, and during one of these visits, he sees that there is another locker registered to Abe. He opens it and finds the fail-safe. Aaron realizes that the fail-safe could be used to potentially cut him out of the deal, and objects to the idea. He dismantles one of the modular units and takes it with him into the fail-safe. When he gets back to Point Zero, he reassembles the box, puts in into another storage locker and starts it running. This means that Aaron and Abe both have their own fail-safe boxes at Point Zero.

    At Point Zero, there are now 2 simultaneous Aarons – the one that doesn’t know about the box yet (Aaron-0) and the one that has gone back to Point Zero from the future (Aaron-1). Aaron-1 begins to phone Aaron-0 on his cell phone, telling him things, and give him instructions. Aaron-0 begins to tape conversations for later use.

    It is unclear whether or not there are several iterations of this cycle. There is a lot of discussion in the film to support that theory. Abe also begins to adopt the practice of taping conversations.

    The constant 36 hour days and physical effects of the box (ear bleeding, sleep disorders, inability to write) are taking their toll. Everybody is paranoid and suspicious of one another.

    Aaron-1 wants to use the box for unspecified purposes of his own. He plans to go to a non-English speaking country and build a room sized box. However, he knows that he will effectively cease to exist if Aaron-0 gets into the fail-safe (as per the original timeline). So Aaron-1 decides to create a “permanent” double. He drugs Aaron-0 and locks him in the attic. This is all going to plan except for the following twist: Later in the evening, Aaron-0 breaks out of the attic, and uses the box to go back 6 hours – emerging as Aaron-2. Aaron-2 goes to his house and fights Aaron-1. They talk and Aaron-1 decides to leave for reasons of his own. Aaron-1 goes to the box and completes the original cycle – thus ceasing to exist.

    Meanwhile, Aaron-0 is still locked in the attic. He will break out later that night. Aaron-2 goes to the storage facility and uses the fail-safe. He heads for the airport to leave the country and his old life behind.

    Abe never trusted Aaron. He is suspicious that Aaron will continue to use the box to mess up his life and those of everybody around him. Let’s call this Abe in the original timeline: Abe-0.

    Abe-0 formulates his own plan. He uses the fail-safe to go back to Point Zero emerging as Abe-1. Abe-1 plans to sabotage the box construction effort from the beginning, thus preventing the box from being invented and preventing any of the bad stuff from happening in this version of the “future”. This was why he created the fail-safe in the first place.

    Abe-1 confronts Aaron-2 at the airport and warns him never to return to mess with the lives of Abe-0, Aaron-0, or Aaron’s family, who will all eventually write the box off as a failed experiment due to the sabotage.

    However, in order to fulfill these watch dog duties, Abe-1 needs to ensure that he continues to exist as a permanent double. In the original timeline, he would cease to exist at the point where Abe-0 gets into the fail-safe to confront Aaron-2, and so he needs to interrupt that cycle. Abe-1 drugs Abe-0 and locks him in the closet just long enough to prevent the original timeline from completing – thus ensuring Abe-1’s independent life as a permanent double.

    Aaron-2 leaves the country and begins his plan to build a larger box.

    .
    The Thomas Granger Sub-Plot:

    At some point, Thomas Granger finds out about the box. The most probable explanation is that Abe told him in an attempt to get some private funding – although why he would need funding when he can now pick sure-fire winners in the stock market is not clear.

    Granger uses the fail-safe (he has a 3 day beard) and starts to follow Aaron. It is possible that some iteration of the party scene involved Rachel being shot because of Aaron’s interference and Granger is trying to change the past by using the fail safe to stop Aaron.

    Granger goes into a coma whenever Abe is around. I can’t really explain this.

  • Steve said:

    Roberto, your explanation makes the most sense to me. Very well written, thank you for that explanation.

  • Dan said:

    I just discovered this movie less than a week ago. I have watched it over and over (and over). I have read this entire discussion (as well as others).
    So many questions answered, yet so many more to explore.
    One thing about the Granger thing and his coma. I have not seen this explanation yet, but what about this?:

    Granger finds out about the boxes (whether through Abe or Aaron irrelevant), He enters the box during a time that Abe is in the box, bouncing back and forth. The two are bouncing back and forth in the box simultaneously and somehow part of their beings are shared/crossed (not like the fly, but still). So, when Abe and Aaron chase Granger, the two of them come close enough to cause some catastrophic effect on Granger. Why not Abe, I don’t know. That’s just my two cents on the Granger subplot.

  • Will said:

    Great explanation. For a graphical representation of the timeline (one possible one, but seems good to me after some study) – see http://www.freeweb.hu/neuwanstein/primer_timeline.html.

  • Brian said:

    One thing I think a lot of people are forgetting is that the people who go into the box are *not* bouncing back and forth. Because they are capable of acting on their own, at the point where they would make their first “bounce”, they open the door and exit the box. The Weeblo and watch only bounce back and forth from time point A to time point B because they cannot choose to exit the box.

    Keep discussing!

  • Danny said:

    Abe says he left the machine on since he or his double or “someone” was on the way back. Who’s “someone”?, why would he say that? Did he tell Granger about The Boxes in order to get funding and did he have Mr Granger try one out?

    Really? By “someone” he only means to say imply that the whole thing is so confusing that he has no idea who’s coming back, since it is he who is on the way back, but that makes no sense, as he’s already there. Better conventions-of-human-language comprehension, please.

    @Steambadger: No, Aaron does not make it into the promised land. He dies before Moses does. An entire biblical book before Moses does. Better readers of the Bible, please.

    @Carson: You’ve completely missed how the time travel works. Please re-watch the film at ~25 minutes as Abe explains the A and B ends of the box to Aaron.

  • Fred said:

    Has anybody noticed their names?

    AARON – first to letters – AA
    ABE – first two letters – AB

    The letters A and B are key in the story, as A to B is moving forward in time, and A to A is looping back to the same moment

    I wonder if this is coincidence, if this is just artistic, or if this is another clue to the story.

  • Tom said:

    I watched the movie this week, read a lot about it and I hope some people still check this site.

    Everybody keeps saying that Abe or Aaron went back to the point at which the fail safe was activated, a long time before the discussion between Abe and Arrom about the device being a time machine. Ok I get this.
    What I don’t get is the fact that during the film you hear the second Aaron on the phone(who made a permanent copy of himself) explain the first Abe how the machine works and what it does. This means that Abe has not built the machine at that point yet since he needs Aaron to explain it to him. But how the hell did the second Aarom get to a time prior to when the machines were made by Abe?!

  • martin said:

    It might be noted that the name of the cat “Filby” is the same as the name of the friend of the Time Traveller in the Time Machine by H.G. Wells

  • Spencer said:

    I think there is a way to travel back in time to a point earlier than when the first machine was initially turned on. You need to make use of the fact that you can take one “box” back in time inside another. Instead of disassembling the second box, though, you leave it assembled and active inside the first box, and you turn it on when you enter the first box to start your trip back (they run on batteries, right, so they are self-contained?).

    Here’s how it would work. Say you turn on box 1 in the storage shed at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and you come back to the shed at 5 p.m. Tuesday evening. At that point, box 1 has been on for 9 hours. You then assemble box 2 inside box 1, power it on, and get inside box 1 (but not box 2) for the trip back.

    After 9 hours inside box 1, you and box 2 emerge at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning. But at this time, Box 2 has been on for 9 hours already, meaning that it must have been turned on at 11 p.m. Monday night in this “new” timeline. At this point, you can hop in box 2 and go back 9 hours before the “original” box was ever powered on.

    So, perhaps the reason that Aaron is constructing a room-size time machine at the end of the movie is to allow him to make use of this box-in-a-box recursion to go multiple leaps back in time. Or I guess he could just want enough space to fit a lazyboy and mini fridge to make the trip more comfortable.

  • Dr.E.Brown said:

    At the end of the film, when Aaron is seen building a larger machine, the size is most likely so that he can walk into it, rather than crawl. Also so that it would appear as a building, which can be better secured from prying eyes, eliminating situations like the Granger one.

    His only mission for this new box must be to continue what he was doing, but somewhere else, whereas Abe has clearly had enough (vowing to keep their originals from building the original box).

    He can’t use this new box to go back to the beginning, at least not in THIS movie, because throughout the movie a box does not simply “appear” in time. – The furthest back he can go at any time from the completion of this box forward, is the completion of this box, and when activated. Box A has only ever led to box A of the past.

    I would imagine the film to continue as such: Building box completed… timer is set, the box activates with no result (for now) This is considered to be the fail-safe time. This box is secured. Another smaller box is created, perhaps even within the fail-safe, for normal use. Timer is set, Aaron goes about his day, observing what he wants, then goes into the box, and appears out of it at the previously preset time, free to manipulate that day.

    I don’t understand what is so hard to grasp.

  • Dr.E.Brown said:

    “safe or not, the thing feels like a coffin as it is.” – Aaron (library scene, while debating whether or not to tell his wife.)

  • Kris said:

    I loved this movie. Saw it a few times, and had no idea what was happening but still thought it was incredible. now reading this explanation, and the one on wicklopedia, i understand it a little more.thanks!!

  • Stephen Smithe said:

    In addition to Neuwanstein site there is a page of the Primer Universe that summaries the whole film in a concise manner. Just Google its title and read the very last page. The plot itself is a paradox. If you want you can also read about 50 pages of details. Possibly written by someone in the film is my guess, unless he is Einstein’s grandson or something.

  • dude said:

    Everybody, are you serious? This guy has no idea what he’s talking about. Sorry man, but you are far from understanding this movie. Your explanation is terrible. I’m not completely sure about everything that happens, but I do know that most of the stuff you said is wrong.

    To name a couple:

    First, you argue that the first time we see Aaron wearing the earpiece (on the bench) that he is listening to march madness games. You simply ignore the fact that it could be and clearly is Aaron from the future trying to fix things. Figuring out that he was never listening to basketball is a major twist in the movie. Notice how it switches back to no earpiece Aaron when he sees Abe’s double for the first time.

    Also, it’s clearly one of Aaron’s doubles in the garage listening to a conversation in the earpiece when they’re putting watches in the machine. We can hear it! He’s trying to get Abe to slow down so he can catch up on the tape! You simply dismiss this without argumentation.

    Secondly, when Abe and Aaron drive up in Abe’s car next to the truck and Aaron asks Abe what he did the first time through, Aaron’s asking what he did the first time he lived that day. Abe went to a hotel so when he came back in time he wouldn’t run into himself; thus, making it possible for him to go around town with Aaron explaining things. Now, since Abe has lived this day twice, once with Aaron and once without him, Aaron has, in a manner of speaking (which is a major part of understanding this movie), lived this day twice as well. The first time, he “worked all day” as he assumes. The second time (although neither time can really be called second or first) he hung out and discovered time travel all day with Abe. This is the whole quantum mechanics, alternate/duplicate realities, copies of themselves stuff that’s going on.

    So when Abe and Aaron pull up in the car next to the truck, Abe has already entered the machine, meaning there is only one Abe again in the “present” and he is free to take his car. That’s why it’s so important for them not to run into their copies until they enter the box, because only then is there one of them.

  • Steve Kane said:

    I pretty much agree with everyones descriptions. They have been very helpful. My own theory about Granger is that the jealous boyfriend kills his daughter at the party. Aaron, filled with grief and knowing he can stop it, tells the also grieving father about the boxes. Granger insists on going back to help make sure his daughter is safe. But things get screwy. What did they end up doing with comatose Granger 2?

  • Stevie said:

    You should update this. However, many other theories have been written, the best being Primer Universe. Perhaps the book benefited by many of these early attempts to explain events. Still, it contains a lot of things that no one else has grasped.

  • kostantinos said:

    well done with the explanation !!!

    very good idea for a movie , but could be directed better than that i believe .

  • david said:

    Thanks Francis
    We just got around to watching this and appreciate you clearing up some things for us. Well done dude.

  • Hiding said:

    Wonderful review – that really clarified a lot, thank you.

    The reason I believe their handwriting to be degrading is that entropy is a function of the universe expanding – going forward in time. All of our cellular mechanisms work because time goes forward. When you reverse time, they don’t function. So the brain can’t repair itself while the person is in the box. Hence, they are causing themselves to have brain damage: the longer you are in the boxes, the more extensive the damage.

    At least, that’s my take on it. Thoughts?

  • JupesJunction said:

    A great mind bending movie is The Lathe Of Heaven. There’s 2 versions, look for the earlier one, shown on WGB Chicago public tv.

  • Pat said:

    The “party hero thing” is the crux of the movie. It is to prevent Rachel from being shot by the crazy-ex boyfriend. This is what originally happened and why they are trying to “reverse engineer a perfect moment.” This is also why Granger traveled back in time. Remember, Rachel is Granger’s daughter. Granger had invested in Abe and Aaron and they used his money to make the original time machine. At some point, whether they explicitly told him about time travel or not, Granger became aware that Aaron and Abe had invented it and it was housed in the storage locker. When his daughter was killed by her crazy ex-boyfriend at the party, he attempted to go back in time to change things. The reason Granger goes into a coma when Abe is around is because any discussion with Granger would make Abe decide to activate the failsafe. If this happened, Abe would return to a time before the chain of events leading to Granger being made aware of the time machine. Granger couldn’t travel back in time in a time machine he did not know about. This is a paradox.

    Great review of a great movie.

  • Yorgie said:

    I took the giant room machine in France to mean that he missed his wife and was contemplating getting his her and\or who ever else and going back to before all of it started….

  • will e said:

    Great Movie. The initial review is mostly accurate (from my own perspective).

    A couple of things to consider as you ponder this movie.

    As stated, you can only go back to the point the time machine you are entering was turned on.
    When you are in the time machine it takes as much time to ‘go back’ to the point the machine was turned on as it has been on in our time perspective. So if the machine was on from 10:00 to 11:00 ‘our time’ you will spend what appears to you as 1 hour in the machine returning back to 10:00.
    This is important when you find out about the failsafe. The failsafe was running for almost 4 days, you will need to be in it for what appears to you as 4 days to return to when the machine was turned on. (That’s why you see Abe with the water/tanks/etc)
    So my point:
    The point in the movie where Abe gets in the failsafe he returns to the morning he showed Aaron about the time machine. We see this very specifically as him opening the door on the roof of the building.
    Everything up to the point in the movie between the first time he opens the door on the roof and the second time he is shown opening it happens in just under 4 days.

    I figure it was a tuesday morning (stocks only trade during the week) and we know Abe had done one day of trading with out Aaron.

    I think:
    Abe time traveled monday in a ‘normal’ way where he turns it on, waits, gets in later in the day and returns to monday morning. No extra Abe at the end of Monday.
    Tuesday he turns on both that time machine and the failsafe. Tuesday he shows Aaron. Tuesday is the day of the party too.
    Wed/Thurs/Friday would have been ‘normal’ time travel days and that is how much of it is presented to us until we learn of the failsafe.
    The problem is, Aaron discovers the failsafe. He uses it to go back and brings a machine with him.
    He returns to Tuesday several times until he gets the party ‘right’. Each time reliving Tuesday. For most of these Abe does and repeats the exact same lines when first revealing time travel because that moment also gets redone each time Aaron returns to Tuesday morning.
    It’s when Abe uses the failsafe that he changes what he says. Aaron realizes it is an Abe reset and they then do Tuesday ‘together’ each knowing the other has been messing around with the machines.

    I know that was long. I left out all of the ‘which version’ discussions. I like those too but that will take another long post to gather my thoughts.

    I will tell you, I believe the first time we see Aaron on the bench he is either recording the day for the first time or repeating what was in. He wasn’t actually listening to the game. The one line “I don’t know, what”, seems to be timed funny but I don’t know what to make of it.

  • will e said:

    It’s interesting. Aaron get’s Will to bring his cousin to the party when he asks him during the basketball game scene.

    Near the end of the movie Abe invites Rachel to the party. Aaron tells Abe:
    “She said she was there because you told her you would be there.”

    Early in the scene Abe suggests that he doesn’t even tell her about the party.

    Since Abe wasn’t at the ‘hero’ version of the party, how did they get Rachel get there? He wouldn’t have invited her or, if he did he didn’t show up for some reason.

    Was there a iteration in the time line where the party happened without them? Does it matter? “Everyone only remembers the last version”. :)

  • ashish said:

    thanks a ton ..u r clever!!!!!!

  • Chris McClelland said:

    I wish I had read this before I watched the movie. I know what I would’ve changed!

  • Malibu said:

    Its rediculous that I watched the entire movie and didnt have a clue about most of wat u just sed LOL
    I thought they just made clones or something =|

  • Trent said:

    I think it is possible to go back in time before the first box was created and if I’m correct it would explain why Aaron was making such a large one at the end.

    Let’s say you have two boxes, A and B, that have been running for 5 days each. If you go into box A and bring B with you you will emerge from A 5 days earlier with box B you could then use to go back another 5 days. The boxes aren’t tethered to a specific day, but to an amount of time relative to when the box was started.

    Now in order to bring box B back in time inside box A it would obviously have to be smaller, hence why Aaron is building such a large box at the end, he wants to go really far back in time by nesting the boxes together.

  • Anonymous said:

    Someone is himself. There are always three copies. One going through the time for the fist time, one doing it for the second time, and themselves going backwards through the time within the box. This is the “someone” within, not Granger.

  • Karl said:

    Just to keep it simple, why did the time traveller mug himself with nitrous??

  • Jen said:

    Karl said:
    Just to keep it simple, why did the time traveller mug himself with nitrous??

    To keep the previous version of himself out of the way so the future version could live out the day in his place, making changes.

  • fattyz said:

    You missed something I think right at 30:22 when they both go into the storage locker the first time, just after they shut the door Abe looks around the corner. WTF!!?? (I just watched this and am reading along and watching again. It’s really hard to get your head around it) : )

    Yours

    FattyZ

  • peter said:

    Great detailed description of Primer. I have put together my own simplified explanation of the movie here as a quick reference. Hope it’s of help. http://www.astronomytrek.com/primer-2004-explained/

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