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.


14 Answers 14


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.


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.


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.

  • Maybe, but how could he have used the box that many times without Abe and Aaron noticing?
    – magnattic
    Dec 9, 2011 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, 2011 at 17:16
  • I don't think the science says you can't go forwards. You go in a loop, as explained with the watch when they first discover the box manipulates time. But going forwards once would just happen at the same pace as not being in the box, so there's not much point to it.
    – Graham Lea
    Feb 28, 2022 at 3:16

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.

  • 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.
    – magnattic
    Jan 4, 2014 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, 2014 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, 2014 at 19:56
  • 2
    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, 2014 at 15:12

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.


I don't have much to add to these interesting speculations. But the director's commentary on the DVD indicates that he was asked this very question at a tech conference. Carruth explained that he intentionally wanted to leave it open how Granger figured into the narrative. I'm paraphrasing from memory, but he liked the idea that certain aspects of the story were essentially unknowable. I interpret that to mean that Granger's presence reveals the limits of a film narrative to have easy explanations for everything.

By the way, the director's commentary on the DVD was very interesting, but he didn't talk about plot much except on this single point.


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).

  • 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, 2014 at 15:35

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

Q: Does everything add up, or did you deliberately leave a few loose ends?
A: 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.

On Thomas Granger being in a coma after he went back in time, Shane Carruth had this to say (emphasis mine):

Q: Can you elaborate on the concept of recursion in terms of time-travel paradoxes?
A: I have a degree in math and my favorite subject was non-linear dynamics. You have an equation y = x, and you take that answer and feed it right back in for x, and you chart this and sometimes you get fractals and sometimes you get orderly systems. The idea of recursion and whatever it leads to—that informed a lot of the story, the idea of creating a feedback loop. This isn’t really addressed in the film, but the reason Granger is unconscious is because he’s suffering from recursion. What I think happened is that Abe told Granger about the machine. This man who’s been told by Abe about the machine uses the machine to come back and somehow has an interaction with Abe so that now Abe probably won’t tell him about the machine and yet he still finds himself there. Without coming out and saying it, the film is built on the idea that these paradoxes are a way to understand things. The universe is not going to explode or break down if you create a paradox. Whatever’s going to break is probably going to be you.

Source: "A Primer Primer", The Village Voice

The most likely reason why Thomas Granger went back based on information provided in the film is due to an emergency involving Rachel:

Aaron: Can you think of any reason you might?
Abe: No.
Aaron: Sometimes we do things but don't know how we got to that point.
Abe: No, I can't.
Aaron: Can't what?
Abe: I can't think of any reason why I would.
Aaron: Well, I can't either.
Abe: What if it was an emergency?
Aaron: So you'd do it if it was an emergency?
Abe: No, I don't know. What, so you might then?
Aaron: I don't know. What kind of emergency?
Aaron (narration): The permutations were endless.

The above was a dialogue between Aaron-2 (hooded Aaron) and Abe-2 on Friday morning (before they went back to Monday morning). We, the audience don't know the exact reason as even Abe-2 and Aaron-2 (the narrator) are not sure what could've happened to cause them to tell Thomas about the time machines. When Aaron-2 and Abe-2 discuss possibilities on why they'd tell Thomas Granger, they hinted that they could tell him about it if it was an emergency, but they are unsure as the "permutations were endless", as Aaron-2 narrates.

Based on their conversation, and on how Aaron-3 (white jumper Aaron) resolved the matter, it is likely that Thomas-2 went back in time because of an emergency involving Rachel and it seems that this might have something to do with Rachel's ex-boyfriend hurting or killing Rachel (in Thomas-2's iteration/loop). He either wanted to resolve the situation himself, or wanted to tell Abe and/or Aaron about it (and get them to resolve the situation).

To resolve the situation, Aaron-3 tried to get Rachel's ex-boyfriend arrested and sent to jail on the night of Robert's birthday party.

Aaron-2 [hooded Aaron, speaking as the narrator]: And that's where I would have entered the story. Or exited, depending on your reference.
Because when Aaron came back the second time, it wasn't so easy.
He wasn't expecting me to put up a fight. And by that time, he was too exhausted to take me.
But for reasons that are only evident to me now, I understood that he simply wanted it more. That he just had more invested. So I left.
He had already performed the task, as I had intended to... of recording the conversations of the day just in case.
Through that earpiece he had a three-second lead on the world.

As per the above dialogue by Aaron-2, he realized that Aaron-3 (white jumper Aaron) is better suited to resolve the situation. "He [Aaron-3] simply wanted it more. That he just had more invested. So I left." So even though Aaron-2 overpowered Aaron-3 when they fought, he left and allowed Aaron-3 to do what was needed.

Based on Aaron-3's actions, resolving the situation has something to do with getting Rachel's ex-boyfriend arrested and sent to jail on the night of Robert's birthday party.

Aaron-2 (speaking as 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?

From this dialogue by Aaron-2 where he talks about Aaron-3, we learn that the last "revision" to the reality is what counts. He also surmises (because he already left town when Aaron-3 was at the party) that Aaron-3 could have tried many times to resolve the situation right and that "eventually he [Aaron-3] must have gotten it perfect." This most likely resolves the whole Thomas Granger paradox / comatose situation.


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?


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.


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.



Abe and Aaron (A&A) attempted to keep symmetry where possible throughout their travels, and failing that to 'have a reset,' albeit a double-inducing reset, via the failsafes.

What I find interesting about the Thomas Granger Incident (TGI) is that we as the audience do not follow the narrative thread that finalised these events. Rather, we experience 'the final revision' of the narrative, like we do in everyday life. This is Aaron's paranoia - that he is living something engineered by someone else.

However, we do see events leading up to the TGI. For example: A&A decide to go and rumble Platts in the middle of the night, what could go wrong? Well many things as we do not get to see the outcome, however if for instance, and this is simply speculation, Aaron was incarcerated or worse, shot as a hostile intruder, then Abe would be in a rather awkward position. Abe is not exactly as liberal in making asymmetrical copies of himself as Aaron is, and he would be faced with the issue of preventing the Platts incident altogether, which he was somewhat the 'brains' behind with the car alarm theory. Who could Abe turn to, with instructions to get in a box and then be at the very time and place to prevent them from carrying out their what-can-go-wrong-hare-brained-scheme? None other than their funder and semi-amigo Thomas Granger. In the narrative of the film who better to call; Hi there Thomas, remember that incident where Aaron saved your daughter's life? Let's talk about that for a moment. Now it's payback time. We need you to do the following.

And so here is a plausible explanation as to how TG would ever understand or get into a box, and why he turned up when he did: to prevent (successfully) the very thing he was tasked with, without creating anymore A&A copies.

This is taking a consequence based view of the information we have. I realise the precise causality is unknowable given the narrative, however I find the timing of TGI extremely coincidental given he stopped A&A from carrying out what was a bloody stupid idea.

Why he became comatose/vegetative around Abe is another question, that I think we can only guess at.


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.

  • I am definitely going to have to watch it again.
    – iandotkelly
    Mar 9, 2012 at 23:27
  • 6
    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.
    – magnattic
    Mar 10, 2012 at 16:49

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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