Thursday, August 25, 2005


“No one would say that what they were doing was complicated. It wouldn't even be considered new. Except maybe in the geological sense. They took from their surroundings what was needed... and made of it something more.”

Primer. The last time I had this much fun trying to figure out a movie was with Memento and Mulholland Drive. Oh, and Donnie Darko as well I guess, but to keep my head out of the teenage angst gutter I will stick with the former two.

It’s way more convoluted than Memento though. Way way more (picture rolling green hills stretching into the distance and the sun shifting slowly behind a frisky white cloud beyond them, and you’ll have some idea of what I mean).

Luckily, I have a clue. A few clues to be precise. Unfortunately I will have to wait for it to come out on DVD to watch it enough to confirm my theories. For anybody interested enough to read up to this point, plot spoiler warning (that’s a big red banner with a black skull and cross bones on a treasure chest for the visually minded).

Right on then, there are two pivotal scenes in this movie. I’ve figured out the one, because it contains many clues. I’m still stuck on the other because it’s just too opaque.

Prelude PS: Apart from reading the voice-over on a thread over at, and as a point of pride, I haven't actually checked up on any of the theories in circulation yet.

First big clue scene: the explanation of how the time box works. If you enter at one end of the cycle and exit before the series of cycles completes, then you can create a double existence and keep it through the time travelling going on. Something like that. The point is that there is a precise moment when an exit point is possible (there are two ends, an A end and a B end, enter at the A end, exit at the B end) and this time cycle allows them to exist as doubles in the same world as their originals so that two sets of people exist at the same time. Eventually the originals will exit the loop and be rich, and the doubles will be lost in time because the loop catches up with the other entity in the loop. When? After “around 1300” times.

So this is the first premise – during the short week of time travelling, these two guys are aiming to do the whole shebang around 1300 times. On-screen we only see it happening about 4 or 5 times, but I am assuming this math is important. That means they are gradually timing the shifts of sleeping in the box and going back to sleep in little increments. And getting rich in the meantime, because they get to know the perfect shares to buy, the way to bet on sports games, etc.

Much of the movie becomes understandable when you grasp this and what their goal is: to make money and exit the cycle of loops at a specific mathematical moment when they will be in sync with their doubles so that they can continue existing normally again. Seen from the start it becomes understandable that from a certain point onwards (presumably the point when Abe wakes up when called by Aaron, while lying on the floor in his room) we are seeing things happening in cycle. We see Aaron exiting at the airport twice, and I am still considering the possibility that a real exit happened here somehow - but my reasoning sort of goes against this possibility. Read on.

Something else is happening at the same time. Each is starting to maximise his own gains and trying to see what he can get away with. The scene where Aaron throws the idea of going back in time and doing something anti-social (Aaron jokes about punching his boss on the nose) creates a seed that grows into mistrust and suspicion as each starts thinking of ways to out-do the other. Aaron does something with Thomas Granger (I will get back to this shortly) and Abe creates the failsafe machine.

The second major scene – perhaps the pivotal scene – is in fact one we never see: the night when Aaron’s perfect moment is reverse engineered. We see parts of it of course, but not exactly what happens. This is the key to the outcome, and one I am still groping towards. What we do know is that Thomas Granger has become a double thanks to Aaron somehow (well, we don’t know for sure it's thanks to Aaron, but I here assume it is due to something he pulled on the night of the party – the “perfect moment”). And also that he is now a vegetable apparently after an encounter with Aaron – at the point of him becoming a vegetable something strange is happening because Aaron claims to have slipped when Abe finds him on the ground near TG as well. Something fishy about that. What I reckon has happened is that Aaron and his double switch places at this point. Maybe the perfect reverse engineering has something to do about getting Thomas Granger out of the way through the shotgun debacle - but why it became necessary to make him a double as well I'm not sure. At any rate, for Aaron to get out of Abe's eye-sight just long enough to switch places was perhaps the aim of the situation.

My premise is that the voice-over Aaron is in fact the double speaking to a new double. Therefore I conclude that Aaron has out-thought his double meaning the act of switching places was properly predicted. In the last scene he appears to want to persuade Abe to come with him, but clearly their friendship is over and Abe stays. I at first thought this is an exit point, but I've changed my mind and now think it isn't - see the next paragraph.

Things have gone wrong in two ways: Aaron has somehow switched (maybe twice) with his double, and further Abe has created a failsafe and hence further doubles. It's possible he also switched at some point (the scene where he meets Aaron in the park sitting on the bench the second time is indicative - Abe doesn't have an earpiece and appears clueless about the dialogue - but this may simply be Aaron entering the double's world). I suspect the exit out of the loop is now haywire, and what's more it can't be fixed because the break-up of friendship is happening in the timeframe of the first set (the real present), and so becomes recursive and fragments everything.

If Aaron in fact successfully exited (or perhaps even if he didn't!) one may surmise that he has pre-meditated a winning streak for himself. In the context of the voice-over being from one Aaron to the next, this would make sense.

The voice-over is very helpful. Aaron is the one speaking. Or to be more precise, Aaron’s double. Who is he talking to? The new double. The game is becoming more and more insidious because the vicious cycle of mistrust can only go one way now: further and further away from trust. The recursion is happening in a kind of inner spiral of time that breeds more doubles and, one imagines, ever more elaborate tricks on either side to gain something in the truly vicious cycle.

But as I say, it seems that Aaron has worked out a foregone conclusion - the friendship break-up just emphasises it doubly - and Abe's threat not to contact the others is in vain. The movie - or rather, the voice-over - is that last necessary communication. Also recursive of course.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The heart is deceitful above all things

Moviegoers are divided into two camps about this film, those who love it and those who hate it. Before and after watching it at the ICA tonight I spoke to one of the crew there - he hated it. I was preparing for the worst yet came out loving it. As I knew I would.

If you haven't heard, Asia Argento is siren daughter of film-maker Dario Argento, who gave us such flambulant horror classics as Suspiria. Now Asia has been making movies for a while already, but this one appears to be destined for a longer shelf-life. This is no Dario masterpiece, but the experimental flair makes this movie much more enjoyable than the dreary plot would have you believe.

And morbid it is, as we are introduced to young Jeremiah who has to live through such ordeals as a whipping from his mother's boyfriend, a rape by her dumped ex-hubby, drug abuse and, eventually, a hand-to-mouth life on the streets while his mother tries to make a buck through prostitution. The subject matter is significantly more malignant than I am describing it, but I wouldn't want to give it all away to my faithful readers.

Sigh - I was thinking “Dear Hot Asia ...” something or another. But the truth is she also acted pretty well – I was thoroughly convinced of her as a white trash junkie throughout (well OK, during the first couple of scenes I was getting used to the film-making style and she looked like a non-act – fact).

Did I mention she also directed the movie? Come here, you white-hot bitch!