Causal Loops: Time Travel in Primer, Looper, The Butterfly Effect, and About Time

Today we discuss one of my favorite topics: Time Travel. Specifically, causal loops and how they are mistreated in most time travel stories. We deal with everything from Terminator to Back to the Future to About Time to The Butterfly Effect. None of the mainstays are safe!

Truth be told, this is all in an effort to talk about one of my favorite movies, Primer. A 2004 Indie darling, Primer is a complex look into what would happen if two garage engineers accidentally made a time machine. It's complex, down in the dirt, and all too real of a look into how quickly things spiral out of hand. Add to that, this 77 movie features over 11 timelines, most implicit rather than shown in film.

As for the other movies in this list, Looper had a lot of promise but it's Terminator-style rules definitely turned me off, The Butterfly Effect does a decent job at staying true to causality, and About Time is relatively safe, but emotionally satisfying in a way Primer could never be.

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Be sure to check out my other videos on YellowBrickRoad (, Daybreakers (, and The Ninth Gate (

Also, check out my deep-dive into Pennywise the Dancing Clown and the main things you'll miss from the original novel while watching the movie adaptations! You can find it at

All the Primer Timelines and Graphs
Definite Timeline for Primer (Paul @ Unreality Mag)

Time Travel in Primer by Tom-B

Primer Comprehensive Timeline

Primer Timeline by Randall Munroe

Primer Definitive Explanation and Timeline

How Primer's Timeline works Correct
Movies Featured
About Time (2013) -
Back to the Future 1 & 2 (1985/1989) -
Ghost in the Shell (2017) -
Groundhog Day (1993) -
Looper (2012) -
Primer (2004) -
Terminator (1984) -
Terminator: Genisys (2015) -
The Butterfly Effect (2004) -
Time Bandits (1981) -
Twelve Monkeys (1995) -
Other Used Media
"Who's Shane Carruth?" by austinmcconnell

Shane Carruth (Rian Johnson)

Rian Johnson; Photo by Jessica Rao

Shane Carruth; Photo by Pari Dukovic

Beneath Sci-Fi Sound: Primer, Science Fiction Sound Design, and American Independent Cinema by Nessa Johnston, University of Glasgow


Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.