Primer is one of the very few times where I finished a film and said to myself 'wait...what just happened?' It is also one of the very few films that has a flowchart to describe the multilayered narrative which is fraught with complication. This film is the debut of Shane Carruth, who is not only responsible for writing, producing and directing the movie - but is also (perhaps unsurprisingly) a former engineer with a college degree in mathematics.
It's been said of it that 'Anyone who gets Primer the first time they watch it is either a savant or a liar.' And honestly, I'm prone to agree. I consider myself to be a pretty attentive viewer when the film calls for it, and I had a hard time following what was happening on screen. To be honest, it should be complicated, and I'm glad that it didn't dumb itself down for the sake of the majority of viewers understanding it the first time they viewed it.
Too many films about time travel simply use it as a tool for the plot. It is a much headier topic to discuss the actual philosophical and ethical ramifications such a device would cause, if it were to exist. These are the issues that Primer explores using scientific and technical jargon just as real scientists and developers would use in the real world.
Normally, one may think that a film that requires multiple viewings to 'get it' isn't a good thing. But it's like drinking water from an oasis, surrounded by deserts of two bit plot driven stories and flat characters that Hollywood pumps out to extract cash, month after month.
Sequential viewings reward you by displaying something new, some nuance that you had not yet realized about the film. This is helped by the feverish buzz and excitement of discovery that the characters have as they are on the verge of invention. Early in the film, the characters in Primer react the same way I did when I learned that water bends light, or why the sky is blue, where that leads them to, I'm not going to spoil. I will say this though, why should time travel be left to something as simple as hitting 88 miles per hour in a DeLorean?