With the teaser trailer release of Christopher Nolan’s new movie Oppenheimer set to arrive at movie theaters in the summer of 2023, we decided it was a good time to revisit Nolan’s first movie: Following.
Back in 1998, armed with nothing more than a few dollars, a handheld camera, and an idea, Christopher Nolan tells the story of Bill (Jeremy Theobald). The wannabe writer takes on a voyeuristic approach to finding inspiration for his next essay: he begins to follow random people.
Bill formulates a set of rules to make sure he doesn’t become too attached to his unknowing victims. Nonetheless The Young Man (as he is credited in the film) begins to break the rules as he becomes increasingly fascinated with his subjects.
Cobb (Alex Haw) is a young, charismatic burglar (or is he?) who confronts Bill when he realizes he’s being followed. The two form an unlikely pair as they tour London’s flats breaking and entering. In one of their missions, they break into the home of The Blonde (Lucy Russell) who immediately becomes the object of Bill’s affection. He begins to follow her and ultimately forms a semi-romantic relationship with her (or does he?) that leads to him to a dark path.
The situation slowly begins to unravel for Bill, which leaves him face to face with a police captain (Jonathan Nolan) by the end of the film…or by the beginning of the film.
Following tells its story in non-linear fashion, a staple technique that Nolan would perfect in Memento. Although this technique does not work quite as well as in Memento due to a changing haircut, his fascination with time pays dividends.
Following is also a short film at just under 70 minutes. For comparison, The Dark Knight Rises clocks in at 2.3 Following’s. It is a shame, as Following could have benefited from extra time. Nolan touches on many themes, and time to delve deeper into those ideas might have prevented the rushed ending.
That does not prevent Following from being an impressive debut. Nolan’s talent for filmmaking is apparent from the get go. He creates a simple, noir-ish thriller on the outside that hides a dark, creepy, disturbing underbelly. He shoots scenes where the viewer feels more like a participant in the violation of a person’s life rather than just an observer. He perches himself on inconvenient locations to create the best shot to tell his story. Even though the film does not meet his lofty ambitions, his passion for film is undeniable.
Ten movies later, Following is unmistakably Nolan’s. Many elements, visual ideas, themes, techniques and even the score can be traced forward to the directors subsequent films.
Today, Nolan is one of Hollywood’s most successful directors. In spite of being responsible for some of the biggest spectacles of the past 20 years, he never strays too far from the soul of his debut. Never one to speak down to his audience, Nolan continues to challenge the mind and stimulate the senses. Curiously enough, after such a solid debut, Nolan has only been Oscar nominated once for best director: Dunkirk. That film, along with Inception, are his only films Oscar nominated for Best Picture. Will Oppenheimer finally land Nolan wins in these categories? Rest assured, we’ll be closely following.