Bottom Line: An overlooked debut from the director of The Dark Knight.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Alex Haw, Darren Ormandy, Dick Bradsell, Gillian El-Kadi, Jennifer Angel, Jeremy Theobald, John Nolan, Lucy Russell, Nicolas Carlotti
Now that countless unforgettable names such as Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick are no longer alive to produce modern classics, and several others such as Rob Reiner and Tim Burton have foreshadowed–if not confirmed–a significant drop in their careers, we’re left with only a handful or two of filmmakers that we can consistently rely on to direct just as successfully as when they had just begun. Christopher Nolan is one of such figures. Nolan always enjoys experimenting with his cinematic techniques and presenting them far less traditionally, but I have yet to witness a resulting failure. Although the vast majority of his films have been widely praised and recognized (i.e. Inception, The Dark Knight), it seems rather disappointing that 1999’s Following–his debut film, nonetheless–is by far his most overlooked.
Following “tracks” an anonymous, aspiring writer (Jeremy Theobald), young, lonely, and bored. He has made plans to write his first novel but can’t quite decide on how his characters would act or behave, what their personalities are like. To cure his writer’s block, our protagonist begins shadowing just about anybody he finds interesting while walking through the city. When this tedious habit evolves into an obsession, the writer finds himself in danger, involved in crime, and being betrayed. The film works every bit as an inspiration for Nolan’s breakthrough picture Memento just a year later. It practices the “neo-noir” genre popularized by films of the early to mid 1990s such as The Usual Suspects and Se7en. A production made on an ultra-low-budget of $6,000–making it easily one of the least expensive films ever released–Following is photographed by Christopher Nolan himself, using a subpar and often mildly shaky technique set against mysterious, low-key black-and-white photography. Dare I say that had the profanity been removed and the violence been presented in a less intense manner, this could easily fool an audience as a film shot in the 1940s and 1950s, when films-noir were initially produced. This idea, albeit with far more professional cinematography, was clearly the inspiration for the select black-and-white scenes in Memento.
The one major similarity between the two films is the narrative structure. Following is organized in a nonlinear sequence, the same way Memento did (though in a much more brilliant, harrowing, and exhilarating way) a year later. The style is admittedly neat when embellished here, but its usage is, unfortunately, almost pointless. In addition, it’s a bit difficult to comprehend. Occasionally, the “Chekhov’s gun” device is employed, allowing us to perhaps draw a conclusion about the order in which each scene is placed via minor details such as change in hair length or whether or not a character is scarred. Following clocks in quite tersely at an hour and eleven minutes. Not until the final fifteen minutes does everything begin to piece together and make sense as one complete story.
Following isn’t a film I would recommend bypassing. Although it’s nowhere close to any of Christopher Nolan’s best work, it’s overlooked to the point of shame. Yes, Memento is by far the more favorable choice. But if remakes were defined by technique rather than story, Memento would be purely a remake of Following. Among other optimal reasons, why not watch Following for the mere sake of seeing the roots of Nolan’s creativity in action? Let’s admit: while not perfect, it’s sufficiently entertaining and pretty exciting.