Skip to main content

3 out of 4 stars




Directed and written

Story continues below advertisement

by Shane Carruth

Starring Shane Carruth

and David Sullivan

Classification: G

Primer is an unapologetically cerebral movie of ideas.

While most "smart movies" these days rely on simple characters to bring across more complicated ideas and themes, the computer geeks in Primer are every bit as intelligent and challenging as the film itself. The story begins with Abe and Aaron, two clever young computer engineers (played with hyper-realistic energy by David Sullivan and writer-director Shane Carruth), who are leading double lives.

By day they both work at white-collar desk jobs at a big generic company in a big generic city somewhere in America. By night they hole themselves up in a makeshift garage laboratory to tinker with mass and gravity. Convinced they are close to striking a major scientific breakthrough, the two young turks break with partners and begin to toil in secrecy. Scavenging bits and bobs from computers, kitchen appliances and car engines, they build a superconducting device with mysterious properties. Objects are placed inside the box and their mass is reduced by gravitational pull. Before long our heroes have slapped together a bigger box and are travelling back in time on a regular basis, making big stock trades with their future knowledge.

Story continues below advertisement

But there's a problem. Unlike the time travel of the sci-fi comic books they grew up on, Abe and Aaron soon realize they cannot neatly enter one period and exit the next. When they use the box to travel into the past, their earlier doubles remain stuck in the future. In order to avoid disrupting fate and the natural continuum of time, Abe and Aaron must avoid their doubles -- both of whom are becoming equally adept at time travel and deception.

In an industry that rewards special effects over raw substance, Primer is a revelation. Shot on Super 16-mm film with a $7,000 (U.S.) budget by a 31-year-old, first-time filmmaker, the movie went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. And rightly so, for this work reminds us that filmmaking can be a democratic art, after all. Forget computer animation and bankable stars: All you need to make a great film is a brilliant script, talented players and a modest line of credit.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

Leah McLaren is a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. She’s published two novels, The Continuity Girl (2007) and A Better Man (2015) both with HarperCollins Canada and Hachette in the USA. The first was a Canadian bestseller, though the second is actually much better. More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at