Following (1998)

Review #1,305

Director:  Christopher Nolan
Cast:   Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell
Plot:  A young writer who follows strangers for material meets a thief who takes him under his wing.

Genre:  Crime / Mystery / Thriller
Awards:  -
Runtime:  69min
Rating:  Not rated.  Likely to be NC16 for language and some violence.
Distributor:  Momentum Pictures

“Everyone has a box.”

While Christopher Nolan launched himself into the stratosphere of filmmaking with the audacious Memento (2000), it was Following, his directorial feature debut, that laid the first brick for the film.  One could even argue that Inception (2010) was borne out of thematic and structural ideas from Following

Still pretty much underseen by fans of Nolan, and perhaps even unheard of by mainstream moviegoers, Following is an economical and lean piece of filmmaking at seventy-odd minutes, but offers some of the complex, layered plotting, and misdirection through editing that Nolan's later works would expand spectacularly with much larger budgets. 

It is a startlingly assured first feature for sure, with an unknown cast, and reportedly shot on the fly on Saturdays for over a year with a few thousands of dollars—the cast and crew all held other full-time jobs. 

The story follows a writer Bill, who seeks inspiration by tailing random people on the streets.  One day, he follows a guy called Cobb (a name Leonardo DiCaprio would possess in Inception), and gets exposed.  Cobb is a master thief who finds thrill from breaking into people's homes.  Bill soon learns the art, and gets caught up in an elaborate mystery—or conspiracy.

We are never sure of both Cobb's or Bill's intentions, and the narrator is unreliable, so Following builds upon a labyrinth of information, of half-truths and lies, perhaps even of truth, as Bill tries to make sense of what is happening, not unlike Leonard's (the lead played by Guy Pearce) predicament in Memento.

Shot in 16mm black-and-white film stock, Following has a raw, grainy aesthetic that is befitting of its noirish treatment.  It is also an unexpectedly violent film, considering that the Nolan we know has been making rather sanitized if still cerebral pictures ever since the blockbuster bug caught him in 2005 with Batman Begins

The Criterion Collection has made Following available in the best presentation possible, so one cannot argue that it is rare and difficult to find.  Although it is not often prioritized in any discourse on Nolan's works, I think by seeing it we would come to a better understanding and appreciation of his craft.  This is his first important brushstroke on his ever expanding and fascinating canvas. 

Verdict:  Startlingly assured debut by Christopher Nolan in this noir-mystery that lays the first brick for Memento (2000) and Inception (2010).


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