In the movie Primer, at first, just as in any timeline, what Abe and Aaron experience is always determined by the past. However, as the boxes are developed and the characters start looping back, it would seem that any events they experience are a direct result from the past as well as any additional influence from the future versions.

If this were the case, it would seem that at some point in the future, either Abe or Aaron told Thomas Granger to go back and attempt to modify the future. However, when they find him and realize what happened, they cannot understand what would have caused them to send him back. Did this event modify the future of their current timeline so that they wouldn’t send Granger back, or is it that they just haven’t reached the point in the timeline when sending him back was a good idea? Is it possible that them finding Granger is the event that will eventually lead him to be sent back?

  • Primer: take Doctor Who timey wimey-ness, run through a blender, add 1 Tasmanian devil, mix well.
    – KutuluMike
    Sep 4, 2012 at 20:37
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    Obligitory XKCD reference: Movie Narrative Charts
    – Iszi
    Sep 4, 2012 at 20:57
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    I've watched Primer a few times and never figured out a reason why Granger came back. But since the Primer universe is one where the past can be changed, Granger's trip back might have erased the original reason for the trip. That's one of the drawbacks of a time travel story set in a non-blocktime universe--- after a while the narrative may not make any sense from any character's viewpoint.
    – Kyle Jones
    Sep 4, 2012 at 21:05

4 Answers 4


Did this event modify the future of their current timeline so that they wouldn’t send Granger back, or is it that they just haven’t reached the point in the timeline when sending him back was a good idea?

Unfortunately the moment you describe breaks the movie, even when using the movie's own time travel theory.

By getting Tom to travel back in time to disrupt future events, Abe and Aaron stop the very event that forces them to send him back, causing an infinite loop. They will now never reach a time when sending Tom back to disrupt the future seems like a good idea.

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    To see if I understand correctly, every time Aaron/Abe take loop back, they are essentially creating a splintered reality where they have lived the same period of time twice and changed some things (stock trades, gambling, etc). Then any deviated timeline from ANY of the loops could have created the situation where they told Granger to go back and do X to result in Y. So what you’re saying is this would create a ripple effect where any future variations of Abe/Aaron can come back or send people back to modify the past, then there are seemingly infinite variations of realities being created?
    – S0L1D
    Sep 4, 2012 at 21:44
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    @S0L1D The original timeline where Granger needed to use the machine was erased. The movie is entirely from the perspective of the final Aaron telling, over the phone, the first Aaron what happened. Because the final Aaron (there are 3) altered events so that the first Aaron never enters the boxes at all. Only the second and third do. You are only shown things that final Aaron has seen or was around for and is telling second hand. Granger being sent back is presumably some unknown 4th Aaron's way to "Engineer a perfect moment" after who knows how many tries, killing himself in the process.
    – DampeS8N
    Sep 10, 2012 at 18:45
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    It doesn't break the movie. It's entirely consistent. When one goes back in time, they create a new timeline. At first, Abe and Aaron are careful not to cause any disruptions from the events they know. They need to ensure that the "native" versions of themselves get in the Boxes. If they don't, the native versions will exist alongside the newcomers, and there is no way to return to a previous timeline. So unfortunately, there is no way to learn the reason Granger went back. That was a previous timeline known only to (that particular) Granger, and he is unable to tell them anything. May 12, 2016 at 14:33

1- In the final and definitive timeline (last seconds of the movie), Aaron 2/The Narrator couldn't know about the Granger Incident at all. Granger was the anomaly of Aaron 3's FIRST timeline iteration, the one we watched through most of the movie (foolishly believing Aaron3 was Aaron Prime). So how did he (Aaron 2) know? Mystery.

My solution: the "original" Aaron 2 indeed witnessed the events of Granger. Hidden from Aaron 3 and Abe 1. We're just hearing excerpts of the "original" conversation the "original" Aaron 2 had with Aaron Prime, where the Granger Incident was described and speculated upon. Anyway, in the ABE2-TEMPERED timeline, Aaron 2 never witnessed the events (because they never happened in the first place), so "his" phone conversation must have been different and Granger-free.

2- "RECYCLABLE" doesn't mean "IT CAN BE FOLDED UP" at all. If you read the script, there's a (discarded/deleted) dialogue about the FOLDED UP BOX which means it is a separate concept from Box RECYCLING. By "RECYCLABLE" Aaron 3 meant it can be used over and over to LOOP in the same day (without creating permanent doubles) !!!!!!!!!

Anyway, speaking about the party "re-engineering", Aaron 2 was wrong or just referring to the FIRST Aaron 3, not the ABE2-TEMPERED TIMELINE Aaron 3 we see in the very end. "This" Aaron 3 never looped back over and over. He just went to the party ONE TIME with Abe2, and that's it. The final timeline Aaron 2 was just guessing.

Hope it's clear.

  • How can they reuse the same box in the same day, and how without creating more doubles?
    – 2540625
    Feb 19, 2019 at 7:21

Aaron states early on at the gas station with Abe that he does not believe in paradoxes, and that "things gotta work themselves out somehow right?". So the premise is that you can alter the past and erase your own future without consequence, hence the reason doubles can coexist and only 1 universe/timeline remains. That being said, since Abe and Aaron will never know what Thomas was sent back for until he comes out of his coma, their only recourse to prevent a possible paradox is to simply tell the young Thomas in the present that he simply must go back in time for unknown reasons. Lets say that Aaron realizes paradoxes are possible and they are about to destroy themselves from too much goofing around. To prevent this they simply tell Thomas "we built a time machine, you must use it and disrupt our events at this precise moment in time. You cant ask why, because we dont know why. All we know is that you visited us and disrupted our events for other reasons that we will never know. In order to preserve space-time you simply must go back in time from this point forward for no other reason than to complete the time travel loop, or else all is lost". At that point Thomas could agree and simply go back in time because he is expected to, not because he has any particular mission.



Or at least that's what Aaron-2 and Aaron-3 believe. Aaron-3 (white jumper Aaron) is the third and last iteration of Aaron we see in the film, and he is the one who resolved the Thomas Granger paradox / comatose situation during the night of Robert's birthday party (Monday) involving Rachel and Rachel's ex-boyfriend (the gunman). The whole reason that Aaron-2 and Aaron-3 went back in time in the first place was to resolve the Thomas Granger situation.

Aaron-2 (hooded Aaron, the narrator): I can tell you with certainty what I did that night when it was my turn.
But I think it would do little good, because what the world remembers, the actuality, the last revision is what counts, apparently.
So how many times did it take Aaron as he cycled through the same conversations lip-synching trivia over and over?
How many times would it take before he got it right? Three? Four? Twenty?
I've decided to believe that only one more would have done it.
I can almost sleep at night if there is only one more.
Slowly and methodically, he reverse-engineered a perfect moment.
He took from his surroundings what was needed and made of it something more.
And once the details had been successfully navigated there would be nothing left to do but wait for the conflict.
Maybe the obligatory last-minute moral debate until the noise of the room escalates into panic and background screams as the gunman walks in.
And eventually he must have got it perfect and it must have been beautiful with all the praise and adoration he had coming.
He had probably saved lives, after all.
Who knows what would have happened if he hadn't been there?

Based on the above narration (where Aaron-2 talks about Aaron-3), while we see multiple timelines in the film, there is only one timeline and only the last revision "counts." Even if different timelines are apparently shown in the film, some of those scenes are just earlier iterations/loops. In the Primer universe, the timeline could be modified in a later iteration.

To resolve the Thomas Granger paradox situation, Aaron-3 attempted and succeeded to get Rachel's ex-boyfriend arrested and sent to jail on the night of Robert's birthday party. Aaron-2 also surmises (because he already left town when Aaron-3 was at the party) that Aaron-3 could have attempted many times to resolve the situation and that "eventually he [Aaron-3] must have gotten it perfect."

This most likely resolves the whole Thomas Granger paradox / comatose situation, preventing Thomas from going back in time in a later iteration, since Aaron-3 was now planning to leave the country the next day (Tuesday), instead of going back in time again and doing another loop to attempt to resolve the situation.

Is it possible that them finding Granger is the event that will eventually lead him to be sent back?

How and why Thomas Granger came back was deliberately made vague in the film. According to an interview with Shane Carruth (Primer writer and director, and the actor who played Aaron) (emphasis mine):

Does everything add up, or did you deliberately leave a few loose ends?

Shane Carruth: It’s never tidily summed up, but I’ve made sure the information is there. Almost every detail, from who the narrator is to how many Aarons there are in the end. But there’s one piece of information that isn’t, and that has to do with [potential funder] Granger coming back and how he was able to. That’s purposely vague. Abe and Aaron each have a point in the film where they find themselves in someone else’s past, and they both react a little differently to it. This is Abe’s moment. This man has found out about the machine and he’s used it to come back, but they don’t know from what point in the future or who told him about it. That’s what spurs Abe to reboot the whole thing, that’s how he reacts—let’s redo everything and then I’m the one in control. It was important that the audience be in the same place that they are—there isn’t any way to know. That’s the one big question that comes up, and I’m satisfied by that—that’s supposed to be the big question. I stuck with the rule that we were going to be with Abe, that we were going to see his experience. Although the narration is coming from Aaron, we only know about Aaron’s experience from voiceover and flashback material, mainly because there was no way to tell a story from multiple points of view dealing with multiple histories.

Source: "A Primer Primer", The Village Voice

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