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Interview with Shane Carruth

From "Primer"


Shane Carruth and David Sullivan star in Primer

David Sullivan and Shane Carruth in "Primer"

Was there a defining moment in college?
You know, I’ve been trying to do this all year and I’m having the hardest time. I don’t know if I’ve ever had any defining moments (laughing). Everything is so gradual.

I know “The Great Gatsby” was a big deal for me in college. It was a book that I remember I had to read in high school – maybe once, maybe twice. Then I had to read again in my freshman year. But it wasn’t until I was just forced to go over and over it to write papers about it and realized that there was an actual architecture here, that this is not just a moment by moment entertainment exercise. There’s a structure here and there’s a point to all of this. And I don’t know… I started to see these metaphors as something a little bit more important. As something that if they become part of the culture, it becomes not only a short-hand that we can all talk about – things that might be true about our experience – but they’re also things that if they become like a tangible part of the culture, it’s one less thing our kids have to learn. It’s like another step that if we’re going to get any better – not to sound too flowery – but these are the steps. These are how we’re going to get there, not having to learn everything all over again for every generation. So when I started to see it like that it kind of just changed [my perception]. It made me think that stories are important. That they can be important. As much as any kind of innovation is, stories are that for our subconscious.

And your outlet would be filmmaking rather than writing novels.
Exactly. To be honest, I know this is just my opinion but I guess I do feel like films are the best medium we have today to tell a great story.

It seems that way. Films are the way to get to society at large.
It seems like it. I don’t know. I hope it doesn’t have to do with short attention spans or whatever because I do think there’s something else going on. You can’t go over nearly as much detail as you can with a 400-page book. But what you can and can’t say seems… The contrast is what’s important. Like leaving out information, you can say more sometimes with that than you can with going on and on and on with some kind of exposition. Composition and what you’re seeing when and what you’re hearing when, and how it’s all put together. It seems like it’s a great way to deliver information.

How many times do you recommend people see "Primer" before they get the point?
(Laughing) I don’t know. I think it’s possible – I talk to people and they seem to get everything in one viewing and it’s no big deal. Then I talk to other people and they’ve seen it a couple of times and they feel like the second time it was a different experience. They knew what to expect.

The thing is, I don’t have any way of knowing whether people are getting what’s thematically going on, that we’re watching basically the deconstruction of a relationship because of the introduction of this power. Or whether they are talking about they get how many Aaron’s there are at the end of it and what the bird noise is in the attic. I felt like my job was to make sure that the information is in this story. That if people are interested in summing up the details, it is definitely my job to make sure that they are gettable. But as far as summing it all up as far as the plot goes, that seems to be working against the whole idea of what was happening thematically.

This machine and Abe and Aaron’s experience are inherently complicated so it needed to be that way in order for the audience to be where Abe and Aaron are, which was always my hope. So I don’t know. I definitely didn’t make it to force people to see it multiple times before they got it (laughing).

Do you do a lot of Q&A sessions with audiences?
I do, yeah.

What’s the strangest interpretation you’ve heard?
The strangest interpretation involves somebody who has decided that from the first scene they are already using the device to travel back. And that gets really odd. In the story, in the beginning we’re seeing Christmas trees and red bows and even Christmas lights in the backyard. Then there’s a moment where it fades out and when it fades back in, we’re talking about March Madness. And so it was always my intention that it be understood that there’s a gap of time here. The way the boxes are set up you could never go back any further than the first moment the box is set up.

I’ll get a question about whether the refrigerator was bought from one of the double’s stock money. It’s really awful because I kind of have to say, “Well, that was actually three months before.” To try to explain the plot in that kind of weird detail it means that it didn’t work. I didn’t communicate properly with that person. And so they’ve thought something else entirely.


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