Are You Hungry? I Haven’t Eaten Since Later Today: Chrono-Ethics in “Primer” – Part 2

This is a continuation of Part 1 of this article.

Put your thinking caps on here cause this is going to get complicated.

“Primer” offers a surprisingly plausible vision of what time-travel might look like.

The ability to go back in time is limited by two factors:

  • the inability to travel back further than the point at which the original time machine was turned on
  • the self-limitation of having to spend an amount of time in the time machine equal to the amount of time into the past that one wishes to travel

Thus, three days back in time equals three days in the time machine. In the course of their daily experiments with taking short day-trips back in time to research stocks prices and professional sports games, the main characters Abe and Aaron come up with a plan that ultimately leads to an unraveling of their continua.

This potential for a disastrous infinite recursion loop is a “Prime” example of both the need for an examination of chrono-ethics and the impossibility of sufficient controls over an ability to time-travel which we will examine in Part 3.

Fans of the movie have termed this plan the “Punch Platz” plan which leads to the “Granger Incident” which is the movie’s climax leading to its tragically haunting dénouement. The flawed plan went something like this:

A man named “Platz” is evidently a former business associate of Abe and Aaron.  The movie alludes to some kind of falling out between them. It’s implied that Platz cheated them in some way and they are still angry about it. They fantasize about going back in time, confronting and punching Platz in the face, then traveling back again and not doing it.  They would have the experience of the revenge but none of the consequences.

Abe comes up with the plan when he is woken up during the night by some loud kids skateboarding outside his house and setting off car alarms. If he hadn’t been woken up, he and Aaron were planning on taking a day-trip back in time the following day. He reasons that they could go back now, punch Platz and then stand outside the home of the sleeping Abe and stop the loud skateboarders so that the he doesn’t wake up.  He wont call Aaron, they don’t go back to punch Platz but they will go back on their planned day trip. The punchers can then take the place of the sleepers, travel back themselves, not punch Platz and the plan would be complete.

That plan may have worked but for one fatal flaw:

The sleepers’ day trip would have taken them further back than the punchers would have gone.


The sleepers would have gone back, Abe would have been woken up, he would have come up with the “Punch Platz” plan, it would have gone wrong again, and again, and again.

In fact, the events that we see in the movie may be the 2nd time this has happened (it can’t be the first, as we later learn), the 10th, 100th, or millionth time. This flawed plan seems to have caused an infinite recursion loop that leads to a disaster that neither the 2 main characters, nor the narrator, nor the viewer can know. The appearance of another character, Thomas Granger, so soon after they decide to enact the “Punch Platz” plan leads us to believe that the plan is the direct cause of his appearance.

Got it? It’s okay if you need to bang your head on something.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about what that means from an ethical standpoint in Part 3

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