Film: Following (1998)
The Principals: Christopher Nolan (dir), Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, John Nolan
A man who fills his time and seeks out inspiration by following random strangers, finds himself in trouble when he breaks one of his strict rules. He becomes wrapped up a with a thief and a mysterious woman in a story that plays out in a short, noir-styled film that gives us a look at what was knocking around Nolan’s head as he was just starting.
Is It Good: Fairly good. While Nolan shares humble, low-budget, high-contrast 16mm beginnings with other auteurs like Aronofsky and Scorsese, Following is not quite as stylistically explosive an introduction as Pi, or as personal and guilt ridden as Who’s That Knocking at My Door?. That said, it is a small, sharp, and tight film that in hindsight subtly hints at the kind of filmmaker Nolan would become.
Watched in a vacuum rather than as the foundationary work of an eventual blockbuster auteur, Following remains a solid neo-noir with a sturdy script. The acting and cinematography reflect the limited budget and spread-out production schedule, but they work at least well enough to keep the moody story going.
Is It Worth A Look: Considering how easily available it is on Netflix’s Instant Watch service (recently appreciated by Mr. Butler), it is worth the time- but mostly as an early-Nolan curiosity than a groundbreaking piece of filmmaking. By 1998 non-linear narratives had been churned through the grinder pretty thoroughly, and in Following it does little more than obliquely obscure and tease pieces of the puzzle. Nolan would make much more effective use of non-traditional structure in his first budgeted film Memento, as well as Batman Begins and The Prestige later.
Besides the obviously chopped up narrative (and the more trivial references mentioned below), Nolan displays other interests in Following that would show up and be explored later in his work. His love for James Bond is apparent in the suave, well dressed, and quick-witted thief, Cobb (ahem), while his love for the vulnerable detective type is evident in the young man. Rules and the consequences of breaking them, cruel exploitation of the uninformed, and a fascination with unfamiliar surroundings are all themes that flow in the blood of Nolan’s work, and they strongly drive Following.
It’s most incredible to think that there is only a ten year span of Nolan’s career between this incredibly small, almost new wave in its primitiveness film, and one of the largest and most successful blockbusters ever filmed, which would then be followed by one of the most satisfying and daring blockbusters to make its way through Hollywood. Inspiring to say the least.
Random Anecdotes: There are a number of cute allusions to Following including the recycled name noted above, and the return of a prop clock in Memento. The funniest by far is the prominent appearance of a Batman sticker on a door, a fortuitous coincidence if there ever was one.