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In Primer there is a secondary character named Thomas Granger that the two main characters Aaron and Abe come in contact with. Apparently he is the father of Abe's girlfriend Rachel and is head of some sort of company.

He is being mentioned as a potential money source for the project and although they decide not to talk to him, later on they find that they are being followed by what is obviously a second Granger from the future in a very bad condition.

What hints are given about what role Granger plays in the whole story and what did most likely happen to him?

Especially the fact that he ends up in a coma (if I recall correctly) makes me wonder, because the side effects of time travel only seem to become noticable after a long time in the box.

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Related question and an answer :… – Anuraag Gupta Dec 10 '11 at 15:26

12 Answers 12

It is implied that something happens in the future. We are left to assume it has something to do with Rachel dying or being injured some time in the future.

Now if we followed the events that are implied to have happened, we would have watched Abe and Aaron grieve over her death, remember that the boxes have been running since before her death and then they tell Thomas about them. Thomas would go back before the accident and change the timeline into the one which is covered in the movie.

So really Abe and Aaron (the copies we follow around) find that their timeline has been messed with without their input.

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In the original timeline, Rachel is injured or killed at the party. The first Aaron to emerge from the original failsafe box (hooded Aaron who drugs his "innocent" pre-time-travel self) knows this.

When he is challenged by the later version of himself, he agrees to leave because the newer copy of himself has already done what he intended (record the conversations, then come back again to prevent the incident). So he knows that saving Rachel's life should eventually be successful but not in this timeline.

Before she is killed in this timeline, he explains to Granger that he can save her and how (probably proving to Granger that he has already live through these days using his knowledge of the March Madness sports events).

Granger gives him money as a reward (or agrees to release it when Rachel is saved), and he shows Granger how to go back in the latest failsafe box, with another box inside to re-set as the failsafe box (so that neither Aaron nor Abe will know he came back), so that Granger can follow them around and make sure they do the right things to save Rachel (because Hooded Aaron already knows that even though he's met the later copy of himself, events may play out differently). Aaron is the most money-oriented character, and he knows that he is a quantum-copy and therefore will have to leave his life, so figures he may as well cash in.

Granger goes back to the start of the week and is following the around boys all week (although this isn't seen in the movie). He probably collapses because of the long journey through the box (we saw Abe's fatigue and Granger is older), plus the added stress of worrying about his daughter, plus being awake a lot so he doesn't miss anything (hinted at by the several days' beard growth).

At the end of the movie, Hooded Aaron is starting to build in a much bigger space - this may be a larger box or a facility of multiple boxes. He has said "you won't find me", so he may be setting up multiple failsafes to always allow him to come back to this point and prevent himself being discovered later. Plus he can make it more comfortable, in case he needs to be in there for a long time - e.g. watch the stock market over three months, then travel back and make a real killing (with more chance of avoiding the insider-trading investigation that the original timeline versions would have been hit with if they had placed individual trades on the top-performing stock 5 days in a row), then six months later travel back another three months, etc. [Remember that this version of Aaron hasn't seen the physiological effects the others are starting to suffer].

Or it may be more sinister - know he knows timeline change is possible, he could be planning to use his multi-box facility to give himself the option of going back and tweaking history to his liking. This may involve more interference with his other selves -or at least, the other Abe (the copy from the airport who was going to sabotage the boxes, so the original them wouldn't know time-travel worked meaning the Abe-copy would be the only other person who knew how to build one - perhaps Aaron is making plans to tie up that loose end at a later stage.)

Maybe there's enough potential for an even more confusing sequel.

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I have always thought from watching Primer (3 times in one evening) that the problem that the users of the time-machine experience is not from duration in the box, but the number of times they have used it.

Since by the rules of the time-machine mean that you can't go forwards at all, and can only go back as far as the box existed, then the box acts like a photocopier for people - it makes more and more copies of users in the time after it was first invented.

I have always considered the symptoms of the use of the box to be a result of the number of times people are using the machine, not the duration. It is like repeatedly photocopying a picture, the quality degrades over time.

Although it is not explicitly stated, it seems that at some point Thomas Granger uses a box, and the version of him in a coma is an n-th generation copy too far.

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Maybe, but how could he have used the box that many times without Abe and Aaron noticing? – atticae Dec 9 '11 at 17:13
The box is collapsible, so you can carry a box within a box - thereby duplicating them too. Who knows how many copies of Abe, Aaron, Thomas and boxes have been made. How many more lockups are there with secret time-machines in them? – iandotkelly Dec 9 '11 at 17:16

This interested me a lot too. What happened to Thomas Granger, why did he come back and why does he pass out.

Firstly as soon as they discover that Granger has come back they realise it could only have been because of an emergency. It could be argued that since he was financing Abe and Aaron he would have been in the best position to discover or be told about the machines. Its quite likely something went wrong with regards to Rachel's ex and he killed someone. Maybe he killed all 3 (Rachel, Aaron and Abe) and Granger found the failsafe. Why didn't he warn them about their deaths? Maybe because he couldn't get near Aaron without going into a coma. Why couldn't he? Its unclear, maybe because of paradoxes involving Aaron dying and Abe surviving. Abe realised he couldn't go back because of the paradox and thought Granger could fare better than him and he was waiting to talk to Abe alone when he was in the car.

In either case its unclear if Thomas Granger appears in timeline that the viewers are sent to when Abe uses the failsafe because it never gets that far.

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Here's my thoughts: Granger goes into a coma because he has become an unresolved paradox.

It's unclear when he arrived - we can guess 5pm, after Abe turned on the machine - or what, exactly, went wrong. We'll never know. "The permutations are endless." What we do know is this: when Thomas Granger interacted with Abe and Aaron, he prevented himself from ever learning about the boxes.

When Abe and Aaron are freaking out in the storage facility, they discuss the possibility of telling Granger, but both dismiss the act - except in an emergency. From this we know Granger is not yet aware of the boxes. Whatever event might have caused him to learn about and use the coffins, that act has now been undone, and Thomas Granger 2 cannot logically exist.

It's likely that the timeline was otherwise identical until Abe and Aaron noticed Granger 2 outside the house. (I wonder if was to contact the drugged Aaron in the attic.) It is only after Abe confirms there are 2 Grangers that Thomas flees and collapses.

(Earlier, when Aaron commits the Cell Phone Paradox, Abe asks if Aaron "feels okay." We don't know if this means anything, but it's possible Granger 2 began to feel the effects of his paradoxical nature and panicked.)

Abe and Aaron have either misinterpreted the coma, or are purposefully misleading one another.

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Welcome to Movies.SE! Thanks for your answer. I agree that it's probably a paradox that is causing his coma, even though (as you say) the cell phone paradox does seem to have no effect. Too bad there are not enough hints as to what caused him to use the box or what his intentions were. I would really love to hear one of the producer's thoughts about this story part. – atticae Jan 4 '14 at 2:39
I just saw this movie for the first time last night and I must have watched it a dozen times since. It's the most delicious mind candy in ages. So much is left unknown and unsettled - the events that prompted Granger to go back were apparently never even developed by the director - that the mystery is all the more intriguing. Was it the paradox experiment? Something worse? Entirely unknowable - perhaps even unimaginable. – owtmyger Jan 4 '14 at 3:38
Two scenes of Abe running, chasing after Thomas, down a different alley each time. When? Before they pulled over? After? Did it happen once? Twice? More? What would've prompted Thomas to go back? We can rule out Rachel's safety - if she were in danger, Aaron would've rewritten the timeline already. They believed that situation resolved. I think the consequences were far more severe. Time is splintering, happening out of order, all at once. They went through with the paradox and whatever happened prevented A&A from using the boxes again, but was still containable if they told just one man. – owtmyger Jan 4 '14 at 19:56
I have read this "paradox" interpretation before. But how can one even create a paradox in the time-travelling model used in Primer? Every use of the machine simply creates new timeline, which becomes independent. There is no need for any timeline to be consistent with its own assumptions later. – Irigi Nov 18 '14 at 15:12

When Abe and Aaron first exit the box together, they get into the vehicle to talk about it. The audience is left wondering "where did Abe get the funding to build such a thing?". At that moment, Abe's Cellphone rings, he picks up and says "Hi Rachel". At this point, we dont know how many times the box has been used (once at least, as we saw an Abe clone entering), but I wonder if Abe already went to Granger, got his approval, ran a few tests, and got the funding, thus showing Aaron the results?

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I think he came back to stop them from creating a paradox (and some "emergency") by punching the guy in the face and then telling themselves not to.

He does stop them but ends up in a coma when he comes into contact with them. Maybe because that created a paradox itself? Either that or he didn't wait for the machine to be low-functioning when he exited (too early or too late) and was suffering physical illness because of it (and maybe why they thought he was drunk).

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I support the theory that Granger exited the box too early or too late. I do not see how paradoxes could even be created in the Primer time-travelling model, where always a new timeline appears. – Irigi Nov 18 '14 at 15:35

This is a very old thread but I'd like to post my opinion.

I think Thomas Granger is Abe. In the end of the movie Abe tells Aaron to never come back here. I think Abe goes back (way back) in time to prevent Aaron from ever going back farther. Abe effectively decides to travel as far back as he can.

This explains why Thomas is a millionaire and why he has those shakes.

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I am definitely going to have to watch it again. – iandotkelly Mar 9 '12 at 23:27
Sorry, but is there anything in the movie that supports your theory? I think its a little far fetched, especially as Thomas Granger is the father of Abe's girlfriend Rachel. He is already there before they invented the machine, so he couldn't possibly be the same person as Abe. One restriction of time travel in the movie is that you cannot travel back further than the time where you set up the machine. – atticae Mar 10 '12 at 16:49

The whole point of the Granger subplot is that they cannot know why he travelled back - Aaron states as much in the narrative. Thomas Granger falls unconcious whenever in proximity to Abe because the sharing of information between them would create a paradox that the Universe cannot allow. This revelation is what convinces Abe to return to the failsafe point and undo the effects of their time travel, given that it is evidently too dangerous to be employed. I agree with the implication that some tragedy involving Rachel is the reason for Granger's trip back but as the voiceover says, Aaron and Abe are ultimately frustrated by the fact that the answer is unknowable.

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The answer is simpler than you think. The paradox they were attempting to test (punching Platts) caused some unknown future emergency which required Granger to be contacted and brought into the loop. Granger gets into one of the boxes that Aaron was already using to go back in, which is why he can't get near to Granger (quantum entanglement?) without passing out. Abe1, upon seeing Granger and aware that he'd be the one to contact granger in an emmergency, immediately heads to the failsafe (you actually see him running to position in the scene where Aaron and Granger collapse), while Abe2 carries on with Aaron.


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The entire Granger sub-plot is a mystery. Why does it matter in the story that Rachel is trhreatened by her ex? It doesn't add any value. Also, Thomas...why does he use the box and who told him about it and why?

We know that Aaron builds a bigger box in France at the end of the movie. I think that he needed money to fund this and went to Thomas. Thomas said something like, "not unless I know what the money is for". At which point Aaron had to fess up. Thomas didn't belive him (a time machine?). So Aaron had no way of proving it unless he sent Thomas back in time. The "emergency" discussion was a lie to Abe so that Abe wouldn't figure this out. When we see Thomas #2 in the past, he is not addressing any kind of emergency...he's following the boys and observing what they are doing. He's gathering information. The "Rachel being threatened" thing is a red herring.

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I think the question, "What happened to Thomas Granger?" is a symptom of some of the weaknesses in the story. Given that time travel is 100% theoretical, it's pointless to deconstruct this movie as if researching historical events - if things don't add up, it's because of poor writing, not because so many of us who have watched the movie multiple times are incapable of figuring it out. To me it looks like either (1) the author wasn't successful in connecting all the dots so went ahead and left big gaps in the story to intentionally spark long fan-cult discussions such as this, or (2) has a full script that ties everything together but couldn't produce a 6-hour movie. But, in my opinion, both the Fringe series and the Continuum series address the loose ends time travel would theoretically create better than Primer. Fringe, by simply having timelines change and replace previous timelines (the only unexplainable / impossible paradox being that the Peter who ceased to exist came back and entangled the current timeline with a changed/disappeared timeline); Continuum, by dealing squarely with the doubles who were encountered with the realization that one of the doubles had to die. The continued existence of doubles in Primer didn't make sense to me since the subjects would travel forward in time to get stock information, then get back in the box to go back and make the trade. They could encounter their double while they were in the future, but there was no reason that a double would exist once they went back to the box. Another failure (in my opinion) of the writing, is making it so difficult if not impossible to piece together what actually happened no matter how many times you watch the movie. At least Memento eventually gave you all the pieces of the puzzle.

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this is more of a general rant about time travel movies rather than an answer to the question – DForck42 Jun 27 '15 at 7:55
Can you reform it to answer the question then just a random rant. – Ankit Sharma Jun 27 '15 at 8:15
That's more of a rant than an answer. – atticae Jun 27 '15 at 9:30

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