Review: Following (1998)

An aspiring writer's life is turned upside down when he begins following people for inspiration in Christopher Nolans distorted Following

Bill (Jeremy Theobald) is an unemployed but aspiring writer who takes to following people for inspiration. His habit soon dominates his life and he starts to follow a well-dressed, smooth talking man who finally confronts him.

Bill’s life takes a disastrous twist as he finds himself embroiled in crimes he never sought to commit when he accompanies the man, Cobb (Alex Haw), when he breaks in to people’s houses to rifle through their belongings, steal their personal items and add trouble to their lives.

Following, Christopher Nolan‘s debut feature length film, is reminiscent of Nolan’s cult favourite Memento insomuch as it unfolds in a non-linear manner. Despite the fact that references to how the film will end are provided throughout the film viewers are left without all the answers until the final moments of the film; an incredible feat of storytelling considering the structure of the film.

Far from being one of Christopher Nolan’s more popular films, Following still captures the essence of its director and features an abundance of Nolan-esque motifs. Its ingenious layered structuring is indicative of what Nolan was yet to produce (The Prestige and Inception, for example) whilst even props used in Following are noticeable from his other films including a clock that appears later in Memento. Perhaps the best spot for fans is the Batman sign on the second apartment’s door – although Nolan of course had no inclination he would come to direct the hugely successful reinvention of the Batman franchise this is a nice nod toward it nonetheless.

Taking over a year to shoot due to the crew’s other commitments (all of whom had full-time jobs), Following is testament to Nolan’s vision and expertise as a director. Shot entirely in 16mm black and white the film has a special quality and this, coupled with its short run-time (being only 70 minutes long), makes for a unique film. The reliance on only three characters for the unravelling of the story is impressive, especially as this is a film practically devoid of names. Although the cast are billed impersonally as ‘The Blonde’, ‘The Young Man’ and so on, the film is engaging and the audience are never made to feel that the on-screen world is one alien to them. In this way the audience come away from the film robbed of their relationship to the film; for over an hour you feel engrossed in the world Nolan creates but are left to realise that you were never fully permitted in on the story.

To think that six films after Following Nolan is wowing audiences worldwide with Inception it is interesting and worthwhile to watch Following to see where such films germinated from. Embracing his English roots, the film is a different but noticeably Nolan film.

Best bit: The unravelling of the story the film is telling.
Best line: Cobb: ‘Bin-fucking-go’
Watch this if you liked: Memento, The Prestige.

The Blonde’s house actually belonged to Nolan’s parents and was, ironically, burgled during filming.

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