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Nice. One of my top five movies of 2005, Primer, is now available on YouTube in its entirety. If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat.

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Four friends/fledgling entrepreneurs, knowing that there’s something bigger and more innovative than the different error-checking devices they’ve built, wrestle over their new invention.

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  • jaced.com April 17, 2012, 5:38 pm

    I just dug up a 2005 email conversation I had with Andreas about this flick. It’s an exchange we had over the course of about a week, with some of the replies doubled up. For geeks:

    – – – – –


    have you seen primer? aw

    – – – – –

    No, haven’t even heard of it. Good?


    – – – – –

    you will love it. we’ll discuss after you have a chance to rent it. aw

    – – – – –

    OK! I just rolled it. Trippy!

    This is one of those flicks that calls for a second viewing, which I’ll do.

    I found myself pausing the dvd a couple times, just to give myself some uninterrupted moments to stare @ the ceiling and think about what was happening.

    After the first spin, there are a handful of things that are blurry, due to factors that complicated the story for me and sent my attention on tangents:

    1. Who the fuck is Rachel? And who’s her boyfriend? By the time the story really turned its focus on the shotgun incident, I hadn’t paid enough attention to the Rachel boyfriend details to follow the scene adequately.

    2. Who was the guy that Aaron thought he saw in the parked car that was unshaven?

    3. Aaron broke in to his double’s house (or would that be vice-versa? ah, the fun), poisoned the milk, and left him for dead. It occured to me that this instance of Aaron had a beard and hood. Any relation to the guy Aaron saw in the parked car?

    4. So let’s back up to the beginning, just to make sure I understand the original plan. We’ve stumbled across a solution for a time machine, which we plan to use to make lots of money by essentially going forward in time and gaining knowledge about certain stocks, and then returning back to the present to cash in on that knowledge. We will set the time machine up on Tueseday morning, and go live out the day with mimimal interaction with society, obtaining information about stocks that will double by day’s end Tuesday. Then, with this information @ the end of the day, we will go put ourselves back the time machine which we left turned on this morning. We climb in, and come back out *as our own doubles* that same Tuesday morning, moments after our primaries turned ’em on in the first place. By late morning Tuesday, we have two instances of ourselves: our primaries, and our doubles. Our doubles know more than our primaries. Trippy concept, and of course, one of the greatest concepts in sci fi.

    First, am I getting this so far?

    5. The various factors (Rachel, boyfriend, parked car, etc.) took us into a twisted thing where it became unclear whether our Abe and Aaron characters were primaries, or doubles. Or, perhaps, we’re going back and forth. etc. For instance, does Aaron poison his double? Or is it the double that poisons Aaron? And so on. It is this type of paradox that make the whole concept cool to ponder in the first place.

    Ready, set, go….

    Let me know your theories.

    Thx for the tip. Very cool!


    – – – – –

    1. I think Rachel was the daughter of the VC they were originally trying to get funding from when they had their parties. and I believe she is casually abe’s girlfriend. maybe not? I thought the boyfriend was an ex.

    2. that was rachel’s dad. they believed that he had discovered the machine and used it, but they couldn’t remember telling him about it because presumably one of their doubles told him.

    3. I think that was him experiencing the same morning a number of times and trying to outsmart himself. not sure. the director’s commentary is pretty helpful in some of these scenes. I also don’t think he kills himself, just a knockout so that he can change his behaviour through the day rather than having the same experience. see #4

    4. so I see the concept this way (and I got carried away and did some diagrams!)…see attached figures. the blue dotted line is the machine winding up, and the diagonal is me traveling backwards.

    fig1- the “normal” way to use the machine. the first time through the day, andreas1 interacts with nobody so as to affect nothing in the timeline. then gets in the machine and comes out as andreas2. andreas2 makes the one stock trade, but other than that interacts with nobody. that way I know that I’m not doing anything different than I would have the first time and therefore I shouldn’t be upsetting the “equation”. at the end of the day, andreas2 watches andreas1 get in the box and disappear and andreas2 continues down the timeline as the only copy of andreas. (nb however my andreas2 body has lived 2 days in the space of one calendar day, so I would be unshaven, and a day older than all my friends.)

    fig2- this is the failsafe machine in the upstairs storage unit. since you get in the box and come out when the box was activated, this box that has been running for several days can take you back to the beginning, but you have to sit in it for the reverse amount of time (I think it was 3 or 4 days in the movie). so you can’t jump through time, but you can travel linearly in the direction of your choice. presumably you could take the failsafe box back to just a few minutes before you turned on the other boxes, and prevent them from being used, and thereby undo any mistakes that got out of hand.

    fig3- this method involves having a second box to use. andreas2 gets out and turns on another box (can’t mess with the first one since it has to be used for the first trip) then when andreas1 is getting in box1 that night, andreas2 gets in box2 and comes out the same morning as andreas3. now however, there are 3 of me running through the one day until two of me get in boxes that night and andreas3 continues unencumbered to the next day. this is a way for me to keep experiencing the same day again and again, but I can’t really change anything, and I have aged 3 days in 1 day.

    fig4- this is how I think the syringe in the milk happened. instead of getting in a different box, andreas2 gets out in the morning and follows andreas1 home after andreas1 has been at uhaul to turn on the machine. then I knock him out and go through the day as andreas1, but I already know everything that happens. and at the end of the day, I stuff andreas1 in the box. or I get back in the box and do it again and again, keep knocking out andreas1 every morning, until I’m satisfied with the day. however, once I have the idea to do this, andreas2 knows damn well that andreas3 might already have poisoned my food or be lurking around a corner waiting to have a third or fourth run through the same day. the paranoia has begun. and imagine if andreas3 runs into andreas4 halfway through the day, and they fight and andreas3 wins. someone has to go into the box at the end of the day to keep things flowing so andreas3 stuffs andreas4 in the box, and andreas3 continues to the next day as the only copy. problem is that andreas3 has no idea what andreas4 might have done in the first half of the day since he doesn’t have those memories, and that may be how one of them told rachel’s dad about the box, but no one remembers.

    fig5- this is where it really starts to get crazy. I figure out that I can actually travel to a time before I turned on the first box by using recursive boxes. if I turn on 2 boxes on Monday morning, then Monday night I get into the blue box and take the purple box with me….purple box keeps running (because time inside the box moves forward, but moves backwards relative to the world outside). when I get out again Monday morning, I have purple box which is fully charged and I can immediately get in and go back to Sunday or Saturday, depending how much time I have on the purple. now I’m further back than when I started the 2 boxes. so I can sneak back to before you turned your box on, put on my earpiece, and that day in the park when jace14 is “first telling me about the box” I already know everything.

    images below. trippy. aw

    – – – – –


    Fantastic job!

    I’m rolling the director’s commentary right now, with all this in mind. Your mention of paranoia, there was a brilliant line, that went something to the effect of:

    “What’s worse? Worrying about being paranoid or realizing that you should be?”


    Dude, this is insaaaaaaane.

    We’re not done…


    – – – – –

    btw, liking the “Amiba” name…


    – – – – –

    What are the details and implications of the scene where Aaron’s viewing the basketball court convo from the balcony, with the inverted delay?


    – – – – –

    I didn’t get that either. I only watched it once so far (haven’t gotten to that part in the commentary yet) but I also thought that on the earpiece the other guy said “nice shot” even though aaron missed, which might show us that there are little variations each time he goes around. ?? aw

    – – – – –

    I’m watching it again, and enjoying it about 13 times more than the first time!

    In the middle of it, but I want to fire this email off while this thought is on my mind. Chances are, I’ll have so much more on my mind later I’ll forget this:

    When Abe approaches Aaron for the first time outside that one morning, and proposes that “if you ditch work and do what I tell you to do, I’ll show you the most amazing thing ever witnessed”, etc., Abe @ this point is already Abe2. Correct? No wonder he looks tired.

    In other words, Abe’s already a day older than Aaron, for he’s already taken the first trip. So @ this point, we’ve got Aaron1 and Abe2 hanging out together.

    This is the morning after they disconnected the batteries, and Aaron hands Abe a key outside the garage.


    – – – – –

    OK, still in the middle of this. Some numbers, for our records:

    8:30 AM – We set the timer for fifteen minutes, after which the machine will turn on. The point of this is so that we’ll be nowhere near the storage facility when that machine activates, because theoretically, that’s the moment of our return.

    8:45 AM – The machine kicks in. According to the above, this is the moment we return from the future. This is the “A point”.

    We live out our lives in hiding for most of the day, playing scrabble and trashcan basketball.

    2:30 PM – We go pick up a gas mask and oxygen tank.

    3:15 PM – We power down the machine, giving it some time to cool down to a comfortable temperature.

    3:19 PM – The machine is cool enough to be comfortable, but not completely off. We climb in, put on our gasmask, pop a dramamine, and try to sleep for six hours. This is the “B point”.

    OK, my question here is this:

    From our body’s perspective, do we spend the same amount of time sleeping in the box as we did living out part of the day?

    For instance, the machine activated @ 8:45 AM. We climbed back in @ 3:19 PM. This means that roughly six and a half hours, or precisely 394 minutes, have elapsed between the machine booting that morning and us climbing back in later in the afternoon. Once back in, we supposedly sleep for six hours, and awake just before the timer goes off @ 8:45 AM.

    Does this mean that we’re not so much “traveling through time” or “jumping back in time”, but rather, in a quite literal sense, “moving backwards through time”? In real time, of all things? i.e. the six hour factor which is both the time we sleep, and roughly the amount of time the machine was on.

    Also, notable is that andreas2 is not a day older than andreas1, but about 12 hours older.


    – – – – –

    Oh my god!

    It’s all becoming clear.

    When Abe comes out of the box @ 8:45 AM (actually around 8:50), he states that he just left everything as he had it. This is key:

    “I left the machine running, because @ that point, my double or whoever was traveling backwards in time. So who knows what would happen if I turned the machine off.”

    Of course!! So indeed, they’re traveling *backwards*. When Abe exits the box @ 8:50 AM, stands up in his underwear and takes a deep breath @ 8:51, his double is essentially in the box. Traveling backwards on the timeline.

    This linear concept of time travel (i.e. it takes six hours to travel back six hours) is profoundly different than the concept of jumping from one point in time to another instantaneously. Awesome!


    – – – – –

    Remember when Aaron’s wife asks him if he called pest control because of the sounds she’s hearing in the attic? He said they’re birds?

    Notice that this whole pest control line seems to come out of nowhere during the scene, and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the story.

    Am I insane to connect the attic sounds the wife’s hearing to the instance of the poisoned Aaron up there in the attic?


    – – – – –

    What a ride…I’m gonna go hit the sack…

    …but one more thought…

    Back to the basketball scene that escaped us. Immediately prior to that scene, the narrating Aaron said that he “recorded the conversations of the day”, which is basically what Abe was listening to while viewing the b-ball court. Notice how the convo on the court was basically the same as the previously recorded version, but today he missed the shot (i.e. “what a brick”), where on tape he made the shot. It seems human error is independent of fate.

    Throughout the movie, we have Aaron narrating the thing. There’s an implication we pick up as the viewer that something more is going on, or rather, something has already happened. In other words, the narrating Aaron is a version from the future, as his narrative is always in hindsight.

    My brain’s shutting down, so pick up the slack on that one. I know there’s more to the recorded narrative that’s registering for me right now…



    – – – – –

    Good morning,

    When Abe goes to wake up Aaron @ 2 AM, the idea is to use the box to go back a few hours and prevent the skate punk from setting off the car alarms. i.e. “This way, my double gets a good night sleep, and we don’t have the convo we’re having now.” etc.

    As they’re driving away from Aaron’s, they see Rachel’s car with what appears to be her dad in it (Mr. Grainger?). Peculiar. To clarify things Abe calls Rachel to get her dad’s number, and then calls Grainger. He answers. This freaks the guys out, as now there are two instances of Grainger, essentially confirming that he’s been dicking with the machine. They get out of the car and confront him, and a footchase ensues.

    This scene is kinda warped. If you recall, there are a couple instances of the shot of Abe running thru the driveway, etc. He eventually comes to the back driveway to find Aaron and (Grainger?) lying down, as if they fell.

    I’m really lost on this scene. What exactly has happened here?

    Also, explain to me what you understand about the “fail safe” machine, and how it fits into our plot.


    ps: Also, stop for a moment and think about that cellphone call Abe makes to Grainger. Which instance of Grainger is he calling?

    – – – – –

    yeah I believe that is abe2, and the amazing thing he want to show aaron is abe1 walking into uhaul? but of course, aaron already has the earpiece at this point as well. I don’t know at what point the recursion starts to happen. what was the key for?


    – – – – –

    @ the very end of the flick, we’re back to the morning outside where Abe approaches Aaron about his discovery. Most of the convo is the same as before, but Abe’s lethargic…and eventually falls backwards and collapses to the ground. So by now, we’re all fucked up.

    My question is this, before we continue:

    How much time (on the calendar) has elapsed between that first Tuesday morning and the end of the flick?

    I know they’ve gone in the box several times, but it’s not really clear how much time has elapsed on the world’s calendar.


    – – – – –

    I think it was 4 days? because they do a few days of stock trading and then the cellphone bit happens and abe realizes after the car scene at night that things are fucked. that’s when he goes back in the failsafe with the intention of not telling aaron about anything, but it’s too late because aaron has already jumped behind (or ahead?) him. is that when we realize that things have been screwed all along and the milk and all that stuff happened within the same 4 days? so the guys have lived like a month in the space of a few days? aw

    – – – – –

    There’s the concept they brought up about the “nested box”, meaning that one could conceivably build a second box, fold it up, and then take it with him into the primary box. I’m still racking my brain trying to put the ends together on that, to understand what it means.

    btw, the “pest scratching” in the attic that the wife heard. Is that not the poisoned Aaron?


    – – – – –

    that’s what I was trying to iron out in my fig. 5. good thought on the pest.


    – – – – –

    They were mentioning the whole idea of another box being one floor up from the main one. This was the “fail safe” one, correct? And tell me, what made it fail safe, exactly?

    Another thing:

    Abe snuck in and suffocated his double. Or, rather, his double suffocated him. Are we lost here?

    btw, after the foot chase, when Aaron was on the ground, was that Grainger with him? And do we know what the hell is going on in this scene?


    – – – – –

    I think what made it fail safe was that abe started it before he started the regular machines, knowing that he could always return to that point in time if necessary, and he would be able to prevent himself from revealing the technology to aaron or anyone else. actually, I guess he could just walk downstairs and smash the other boxes.

    lost on the suffocation part. I’m really not sure if killing a double wouldn’t screw everything up. in every model I came up with, at some point all but one of you has to get into a box in order to even everything out, and just one copy can proceed into the next day. if you kill a double, then there’s no one to get into the box at night, so no one could’ve gotten out in the morning.

    I think the foot chase part is very confusing. grainger is the VC guy, right? remember when aaron was trying to figure out a way to beat him up for not giving them money initially—he was trying to figure out a way to it and not get caught, probably by using his double as an ally. that’s when the concept of using the boxes to change the timeline really started.

    there’s also something in the commentary that mentions one of them being diabetic, but that point got left out in the editing. hmmmm. don’t know if the matters. although I think maybe he was shooting insulin into the milk?

    I really need to watch it again.


    – – – – –

    If the entire flick took place over a few days, say, around four, then how exactly do we end up on Day 1 again? i.e. outside in the morning, with Abe approaching Aaron.

    Is this an instance of Abe on Day 2 going back when we don’t know about it? Or has Abe gone back 4 days?

    Not expecting an answer, just sharing the question.


    – – – – –

    you mean in the park? I think that was abe using the failsafe box to go back after things got out of hand with that VC guy in the back driveway…did they kill him? anyway, I think abe used the failsafe to go back and he was thinking about not telling aaron anything, but aaron already had the earpiece at that point, so he had already gone back to an earlier point by recursively bringing boxes back with him. yes? I really have to watch it again. aw

    – – – – –

    Not sure if it was a park. Perhaps it was, so sure, let’s call it the park scene. It was basically the first day Abe went back. Aaron’s sitting on the bench, saying “I’ve been trying to call you.” etc. It’s one of the earlier scenes in the flick, where Abe tells Aaron about what he’s done.

    Then everything from the basketball to the milk to the chase to the shotgun happens.

    Then, @ the end of the flick, we’re back to that same moment on the timeline in the park. What I’m blurry on is this:

    Since it takes six hours of box time to travel six hours backwards on the world’s timeline, it seems these guys are only going back as far as a day or so. So on Tuesday @ 9pm, they’ve arrived @ Tuesday 9am. Then they live out their day knowing what they know, and go back home for the night. Wednesday they do the same drill; go to the storage place in the morning, come back @ 3pm, sleep in the box for six hours, and exit @ Wednesday 9am again.

    As Aaron says, “I’m getting tired of these 36 hour days”.

    So it’s almost as if for every two steps they take on the world’s time line, they take one back step.

    If this were to continue, by the time they do this a few times, it’ll be Friday. Let’s say that by the end of the flick, after they’ve done this several times, they’re now @ Friday.

    But then, all of a sudden, it’s Monday morning again in the park.



    – – – – –

    yes I mean the bench scene, might not be a park, but we’ll call it that. anyway, how do they go back to Monday? there’s 2 ways that I see:

    #1. abe goes back with the failsafe box. he turned it on Monday at 8 am. then at 9am he turned on the regular box, got in at 3, and came back out at 9am. went to see aaron, watched his double, etc etc. eventually Friday rolls around, and the failsafe box has been winding up for 4 days. so he gets it, sleeps in the box for 96 hours or so, and comes out Monday at 8am when he originally turned it on. you can only go back as early as when you turned the thing on. so this gets him out early enough (8am) that he can decide not to turn on the next box at 9am, and can go to the park and not tell aaron anything…he hasn’t taken the one-day trip he originally had taken when he first approached aaron in the park, but in reality, he took that trip in the past when he was still abe2. he’s now abe10 or something.

    #2. the second way to go back was employed by aaron. he turns 2 boxes on Tuesday at 9am. at 3pm he gets in one box and takes the other one with him, still running. after the 6 hours is up he gets out, 12 hours total have gone by for him, and it’s Tuesday 9am again. but the box he took with him now has a 12 hour “charge”, so at 9:01am he gets into that box, waits 12 hours, and comes out at 9pm Monday. he has now traveled backwards using recursive boxes and has come out before he turned any of the boxes on…so he has beaten the limitation in #1 of not being able to travel farther back than when you turn the box on. he could do this a few times, or nest more than two boxes, and easily travel from Friday back to Monday or earlier without the failsafe box. that’s why he already knew what was happening when abe came to him on the bench. I think that scene was not abe2 talking to aaron1, but perhaps abe12 talking to aaron15…

    this is what I believe. thoughts

    also one other thing I just remembered…I think this came from the commentary. when aaron “first” gets out of the box with abe, and got out a little early, and seems to be a bit nauseous—I remember the director saying that was aaron pretending it was his first time for abe’s benefit, when really he had done it before.


    – – – – –

    Ah! So you’re saying that Aaron could be the outsmarter here, no?

    That’s insane! I’m beginning to see what you mean.

    #2 sounds more like it, since it includes the “nested box” concept, which was a technical point in the flick. #1 doesn’t sound right, simply because sleeping for 96 hours raises serious questions about survival (hydration, oxygen, etc.)

    So that final scene in the park…you’re saying Aaron knows what’s going on. What a cool twist…I need to think…


    – – – – –

    yes and yes. but I think both #1 and #2 were emplyed in the movie. remember that there was one sequence where abe talks (in a VO) about figuring out how much air he needs to breathe over 4 days, and how much water the body loses per day etc. – this was leading up to getting in the box for 4 days.


    – – – – –




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