Primer (2004) - Plot Summary Poster



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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.

  • Engineers Aaron, Abe, Robert and Phillip are working on an invention, the prototype being built in Aaron's garage. This project is beyond their day jobs. The project truly does belong to Aaron and Abe, as they use all their free time working on it, primarily trying to overcome the many engineering related problems they've encountered. It is during one of his tests with the invention running that Abe discovers that a protein inside the main unit has multiplied much more rapidly than it could in nature. Rather than the invention being a protein super incubator, Abe, using himself as a guinea pig, and a very meticulous one at that, discovers that the invention can be used as a time machine. In his self experiment, Abe was especially careful not to interfere with his own self in that time warp. Abe passes along this discovery to Aaron, who he expects will tell his wife Kara in what is the sanctity of their marriage, but he doesn't want to tell either Robert or Phillip. Much to Abe's surprise, Aaron does not want to tell Kara, it being a sole intellectual property of just the two of them, in the process moving the base of operation to a locked storage unit. Aaron's plan for the two of them is to use the invention to win big in the stock market by knowing through the time travel what has happened in the market. With two thoughts on the matter now instead of just one, Aaron and Abe may hit some logistical and philosophical roadblocks in how to move forward.

  • At night and on weekends, four men in a suburban garage have built a cottage industry of error-checking devices. But, they know that there is something more. There is some idea, some mechanism, some accidental side effect that is standing between them and a pure leap of innovation. And so, through trial and error they are building the device that is missing most. However, two of these men find the device and immediately realize that it is too valuable to market. The limit of their trust in each other is strained when they are faced with the question, If you always want what you can't have, what do you want when you can have anything?


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Four engineers- Aaron (Shane Carruth), Abe (David Sullivan), Robert, and Phillip who work for a large corporation during the day, run a side business from Aaron's garage at night, building and selling JTAG cards. With the proceeds of this work they fund pet science projects that they hope will yield applications sufficient to attract "VC attention". After arguing over the project that the group should tackle next, Aaron and Abe independently pursue work on technology intended to reduce the weight of an object. Although the device seems to work as planned, it has a side effect: a timepiece left in the device shows the watch has experienced about 1300 times the amount of time the device was activated for. Abe reasons that they have created a time machine.

    After some testing, Abe secretly builds a prototype machine large enough to hold a person and, after traveling back to earlier that day, details the results to Aaron. Abe and Aaron build an additional machine (subsequently called "the box") and decide to cut Robert and Phillip out of the discovery, under the false pretense that the garage has to be fumigated.

    Abe and Aaron starts using the time machines to make money in the stock market, but as their understanding of how the machines work evolves, they become more adventurous with their trips. Their experimentation is cut short by the unexpected appearance of Thomas Granger (Chip Carruth), the father of Abe's girlfriend Rachel, whose financial backing the group had been trying to procure. Granger's trip appears to have made him comatose, and neither understand how Granger could have discovered the box. Abe is particularly disturbed by this turn of events and concludes that time travel is too dangerous to continue. He attempts to prevent his past self from using the machine for time travel, thereby nullifying all of its consequences, by using a "failsafe" machine, which he previously built in secret, to travel back to a point prior to his first trip through time and also prior to his broaching the subject of time travel with Aaron.

    Having traveled back four days in time using this failsafe point, Abe goes to meet Aaron and collapses. After Abe recovers, Aaron reveals that unbeknownst to Abe, Aaron had discovered this failsafe box and used it to get control. Aaron brought back another box, creating a false failsafe point to make Abe believe that there was still a working failsafe machine awaiting him, and preventing Abe from undoing Aaron's actions. Aaron then reveals that he has been using a recording to recite their conversation from an earlier time. He continues to explain how he encountered, fought, and was subdued by a previous version of himself who used the failsafe to come back and make recordings after drugging the original Aaron.

    But Aaron convinced his earlier self that since he has the recordings already made that he should continue to act as Aaron. The earlier Aaron leaves, leaving the later Aaron to his plan to redo the events of a party in which a crasher attempted to shoot Rachel Granger so Aaron can become a hero. Abe agrees to try to change the events of the party with Aaron and the two succeed, though it is unclear how many reiterations it has taken. Their deceptions and their differing views on the use of the machines unfortunately have destroyed their friendship.

    The continued use of the machines causes brain damage. Aaron seems suffer a stroke when he bleeds from his ears. Then he complains later in the film that his handwriting is poor and he can't read. While Abe stops speaking tech with Aaron and once asks him to write it down.

    Aaron accuses Abe of coveting his family and Abe warns Aaron never to return or interfere with their doubles. Abe stays behind to continue his plan of attempting to prevent the original Abe and Aaron from this timeline who have no idea of what the others have done from ever using the machines for time travel, suggesting that he would tamper with the machines in the hope that their doubles would think the experiment a failure and move on to other projects. The earlier Aaron who came back in the failsafe to make the recordings speaks on the phone to an unspecified recipient to which Aaron states he owes a debt.

    The movie ends with the shot of one of the Aarons and a team of French-speaking workers begin construction on what appears to be a building-sized box.

    (Originally contributed by Jithin Bhagavati Kalam in Wikipedia, 2007)

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