Time is on their side


First-time filmmaker Shane Carruth brings a Twilight Zone sensibility to a modern problem

If only all backyard films were as good as Primer, Texas first-timer Shane Carruth's feature that took the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year. Part of the fun is that Carruth has created a low-budget DIY movie about two 30-something engineers who build a low-budget DIY time travel machine that ultimately resides in a rental storage unit. (I, for one, am glad someone has come up with a use for those ubiquitous things.) He also has a use for that catalytic converter you had removed in Mexico so you could get better gas mileage.

The technique within a technique benignly echoes the tension that holds the film together: Abe (ably played by Carruth) and Aaron (Sullivan) don't know what to do with their new toy - besides make oodles of money in the stock market, of course - in part because even they can't keep track of the endlessly permutating problems and implications. It's a very dark comedy of the law of unintended consequences. Our protagonists are worn to the bone trying to manage their doubles, and remembering to carefully isolate themselves when they are time-traveling.

Carruth and his fellow actors take the Method to new heights. They are naturally at home in a Silicon-Valley type setting, sporting rumpled white shirts and nondescript ties, living for the idea alone. It is maddening at first trying to decipher their mumbled speculations and "a-ha!" moments, but the style wisely conceals a multitude of likely holes in the plot's physics and metaphysics. I'm not at all sure, for instance, that Abe and Aaron explained how they could add extra matter to the universe if their doubles are in fact complete doubles.

Dir. & writ. Shane Carruth; feat. Carruth, David Sullivan, Carrie Crawford, Ashok Upadhyaya, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, Brandon Blagg (R)
Mathematical proofs aside, Carruth has created a mesmerizing fusion of Twilight Zone and Kurt Vonnegut. His characters, caught up in their own dramas, seem blithely unaware of the larger moral implications of their contraption. As is often the case with technological advances, the inventor who figures out the science discovers he is a step behind the one who understands how it can be exploited. But when Abe finally draws the line, it's for a reason as old as time, not to save humanity.

Dozens of films high and low have tried to create a techie hero for our ambiguous age, and the rise of comic book protagonists is in part testimony to the difficulty of imagining a human who could grasp the science and the consequences and act on them. By simply portraying the conundrum of a world at the mercy of erratic, unassuming humans playing with the laws of the universe, Carruth shows us why we should all be ... well, if not afraid, certainly very, very concerned.

By Elaine Wolff

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