The Reality of Sci-Fi: Shane Carruth’s Primer
Hannah Lea introduces Shane Carruth’s sci-fi mind bender, Primer, screening as part of our Science Fiction Film Season
23 May 2014
Sci-fi as a genre has grown from H.G Well’s The Time Machine (1895) through TV and film like Doctor Who (1963- present) and Back to the Future (1985) into an all-encompassing factor of life. Technology is developing; we are developing, relying on this technology more than ever and spending less time face to face and more time behind screens. Are we finding ways to make life easier? Better? Sci-fi aficionado or not, the genre is the stuff fiction and now real life is made of.
Shane Carruth’s sci-fi mind bender Primer has established a cult following due to its intellectual and ethical approach to the subject of time travel, and its homemade filming style. The cinematography and sound of Primer makes it all the more realistic. The time travel machine isn’t created in a high-tech laboratory in an undisclosed location, but in Aaron’s garage, which is interesting because within the sci-fi genre it’s not what you’d initially expect from a time-travel narrative. Because of this, and many more reasons, it was honoured at the 2004 Sundance film festival with the Grand Jury prize and the Alfred P Sloan award.
The film begins its journey through time as main characters Aaron and Abe (two engineers by day) attempt to develop a device that will somehow counteract the laws of gravity, making objects lighter than they are. Through their experimentation, they create a time machine, in this entirely plausible (if utterly complex and confusing) film. Aaron and Abe decide to use their time machine to make masses of money on the stock market. But in reality, Abe has no real idea what the company that Aaron and he are investing all their money in actually does. The underlying factor fuelling their enterprise is that the price will go up and they will make money.
Director Shane Carruth, a former software engineer, studied mathematics in college and was a flight simulator software developer before making Primer. Carruth utilised his technical knowledge and ability to create this surreal, yet theoretically possible film.
I think it is important to consider in relation to Primer, this isn’t a sci-fi film that relies on bad CGI artificially created monsters or flux capacitors and ‘mad scientists’. This is all researched stuff. Sci-fi isn’t just a genre that belongs in books or films. It symbolises potential, of technology, of humans and of the future.
I think one theme that is prominent in modern sci-fi films, and in particular Primer, is the immense power of technology and the detrimental effect it can have on human relationships. The deconstruction of Aaron and Abe’s relationship is due to the introduction of this new found technological power, using the time machine in such a small number of days for their own selfish gain, leads through their own short sightedness, to the creation of so many overlapping timelines that they lose control.
After visiting FACT’s Science Fiction: New Death exhibition, I feel that this concept also transfers to a number of pieces in the galleries. The two that I, personally, think of first are Larisa Sansour’s Nation Estate and Peter Gemeinboeck & Rob Saunders’ Accomplice.
Peter Gemeinboeck & Rob Saunders’ Accomplice is an on-going installation piece in Gallery 2 at FACT. The later into the exhibition you visit the more destruction you see. Two robots behind a wall are programmed to learn and respond to their surroundings they are also equipped with a motorised punch to transform its environment and express its desires. Aaron and Abe’s relationship in Primer deteriorates as the potential of time travel grows. Although a different topic and cultural tensions, this theme links really well with some of the pieces in the Science fiction: New Death exhibition. For example, Larissa Sansour’s Nation Estate depicts a vertical solution to Palestinian statehood. In her beautifully made film, Sansour explores how the entire population of Palestine could be housed in one staggering skyscraper, with each city on its own floor. It’s an interesting relationship that technology creates amongst humans. Does it solve problems? Or create them?
So, is science fiction turning life into a puzzle that needs to be solved? Primer would suggest, yes. Intentionally, un-intentionally, Carruth’s story leaves its audience toiling with the themes of the film needing to re-watch, spending hours thinking about the potential of time travel and the reality of sci-fi. Sci-fi aficionado or not, the genre is the stuff fiction and now real life is made of. Making Primer definitely worth a watch this Monday at FACT.
Shane Carruth’s Primer will be shown at FACT on Monday 26 May as part of the Science Fiction: New Death Exhibition, which is running until 15 June.
Tickets for Primer are available from the box office, by phone on 0151 902 5737 and online. For more information about Science Fiction: New Death and the entire events programme, please visit the exhibition project page.