Primer is a virtually no-budget movie about a pair of friends who stumble on a technological breakthrough that has some drastic unforeseen consequences. It’s not a film for everyone and from reading online reviews, I can see that it has a strong polarising effect. Personally I loved it and although it’s from 2004, I only discovered it a few months ago and it is my favourite film of the moment.

Primer is hard to follow. The characters speak to each other as friends and engineers, there is no exposition. There are also events which are reported and not depicted. I imagine this was a necessity of budget, but also it’s a narrative device. As the film progresses, scenes seem to be shorter and more chopped up; as the stakes increase, we are told less and less and I felt my sense of frustration grow. But this is a film about things that get out of hand, about people who think they are smart enough to figure things out but ultimately give up. So it makes sense that we as viewers give up as well.

For such a small budget I found the cinematography and acting very strong but I know that this is not a universally held opinion. The negative reviews seem to follow a common thread: I didn’t understand what was going on, therefore this is a bad film. This is an offensive argument to me.

There are plenty of films and books that I haven’t understood and subsequently didn’t enjoy but I would never say that they were bad for that sole reason. This reminds me of the tabloid reaction (year after year) to the Turner prize. It makes no sense to me, therefore it must be worthless to everyone.

One reviewer claimed that anyone who claimed to enjoy or understand the film was lying and trying to avoid appearing stupid. While this is possible (even if it seems to me strangely paranoid) it precludes the possibility that the film is coherent to anyone. How can anyone make such a blanket claim about a film they, by their own admission, do not understand?

So many expect films to entertain, but by “entertain” they seem to mean something that doesn’t in any way require them to think, or to reason, or to question their prejudices. Why do we require only one kind of cinema? Why do we crave escapism to the utter exclusion of all other sensations? For me, this film was great for the very reason that it did engage me, that it asked something more than passive acceptance. This is a rare thing today, something to be encouraged, not vilified.

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