Original release: November 5th, 1999
Running time: 69 minutes
Writer and director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Jeremy Theobald
Christopher Nolan had done much right with his directorial debut, Following, and has done little wrong since. I came across this film while frantically searching for anything affiliated with Nolan.
The first film I’d seen by this director was Memento (2000), and so blown away was I that I had to see more. Here’s the thing about Following, even though it was the first film he ever made, professionally, I’m really glad that I watched it after Memento, Insomnia (2002) and The Prestige (2006). It helped put it in perspective.
In retrospect, you can see that Nolan’s signature use of non-linear plot lines and his zest for film noir began a long time ago. It’s remarkable to see the thought he’s put into making a film, the production of which saw many obstacles. I could impress you with technical facts like his tight budget (£6000), his tight schedule (filmed over a year only on the weekends), his use of black and white film (not only did it enhance the neo-noirish elements of the film, it also proved to be a great alternative to expensive lighting equipment), or that most of the sets used were his friends’ apartments.
No doubt, his clinical execution of a production can put the greatest filmmakers to shame. However, his story is what stands out. It’s so well spun, that even though it may seem confusing at first, you’d be hard pressed to find a loophole.
Typically, neo-noir films employ the use of imminent disaster awaiting the lead, a chance encounter with someone that spirals out of control, a femme fatale and of course, grim lighting. Following envelops all of these and creates a film full of remarkable twists, turns and suspense.
The film is about a young man named Bill, who fancies himself a writer in the city of London. He’s out of material for his stories and therefore has developed a strange habit of following strangers around in the hopes of seeing or hearing anything interesting. By his own admission, this wasn’t anything sexual and he was simply collecting data for his characters.
What follows is an encounter with one such stranger (who happens to be a burglar) and how the situation whorled out of his sway. To reveal anything further about the narrative would be deplorable. Let it be said however, that it will leave you perplexed enough to elicit a second viewing without putting you off the film completely.
The use of non-linear narrative is evident in most of his films, but Nolan had perfected this technique with his very first film! If there’s doubt over the use of this tactic as a gimmick, I must inform you that such a plot contrivance adds greatly to the story and is in a way extremely essential. Nolan has oft repeated that the reason for this is to put the audience in the shoes of the protagonist (as with Memento) and to involve them in the story.
As we navigate through the chaotic chronology presented to us, we become detectives of sorts, collecting all the pieces of the puzzle and arranging them on our own. The reward for such an endeavour is, needless to say, much greater in terms of the suspense revealed and the plot twists recognized. Following presents us with three different events that are chronologically out of order, and it’s up to us to put them together. He uses memory and uniquely recognisable objects to differentiate between the three stories and in the end it all comes together.
Another thing worth mentioning is that all the actors in the film were non-professional and were in fact Nolan’s friends and acquaintances. This doesn’t take anything away from the end product, as the characterisation was beautifully constructed. Nolan took a very simple concept, that of following and expanded it into a dark story with an unfortunate end. How far away are we from committing a crime? How blurry is the line between innocent following and obsessive stalking? How enriching is it to have a healthy curiosity? Or is there such a thing as “healthy” curiosity?
The film explores these moral playgrounds in a way that forces us to further examine our own codes. This is what Nolan brings to the table. He never molly-coddles his viewers, nor does he make them work too hard. Following, like all of his films, deserves multiple viewings, if only to satisfy all of your questions. There’s something new to be discovered each time we watch it. It’s like a novel that can’t be put down, and never gets old no matter how many times we read it.
Nandini is currently pursuing her Masters degree in Film Studies from Queen Mary University of London. She aspires to work in television, preferably developing shows. She enjoys writing and maintains a blog that contains her short stories, poems and other musings.
Nandini also loves all sports, including football, and is a supporter of Arsenal. Follow her on Twitter @nandini_godara.