Following – The First Christopher Nolan Feature

Jeremy Theobald in Following. Courtesy of IFC in Theaters LLC.

Before Christopher Nolan moved onto blockbuster tentpoles, the filmmaker premiered Following during a 1998-99 festival run.

Following is clearly in the vein of low-budget filmmaking. Because of the limited resources available, they only shot the film on weekends for nearly a year. While Nolan had written the neo-noir crime thriller chronologically, one can see how Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction would later influence the decision to edit into a non-linear story. It’s a 70-minute film and while it can be confusing to follow at times, Nolan makes sure that the story ultimately pays off at the end. Thankfully, the Criterion Collection Blu-ray includes a chronological edit. I’ve not watched that version yet but I probably will do so in the future. In any event, Nolan would later return to non-linear storytelling throughout his career.

The black-and-white thriller is about identity theft and focuses in on The Young Man (Jeremy Theobald) and Cobb (Alex Haw). We never really know just who exactly The Young Man is especially since he gives different names. There is this idea that the film is about guilt–something that Nolan would later dive into when making Inception. Not surprisingly, Nolan draws on his own life experiences when making the film, which explains why Cobb is a burglar. Funny enough, the same burglary would inspire Nolan to make Larceny, which is still under lock and key.

There are three different timelines in the film. In the first, the police interrogate The Young Man about Cobb. The second one sees The Young Man becoming intimate with The Blonde (Lucy Russell). If you pay attention closely, Nolan pays homage to The Big Sleep. The filmmaker was also influenced by Jacques Tourneur while writing the screenplay, too. In the third timeline, we witness The Young Man recovering from being beaten on a rooftop.

Nolan chose to shoot the film handheld and with black and white film 16mm stock so as to achieve an expressionist feel. The filmmaker shot it himself but would film with a similar style once joining up with cinematographer with Wally Pfister. It makes since for producing a first feature on the cheap and Nolan certainly has a grasp of what he’s doing behind the camera. He’s a filmmaker who shoots scenes with one camera, which helps with blocking. It’s one of the things that helps make the Oscar nominee an efficient filmmaker. Even though the filmmaker opts for a single camera while filming, he still does his due diligence in choosing which angles to film from when an actor recites their lines. And again, this is still particularly early in Nolan’s filmmaking career. Some of the best filmmakers are those who are editing in their head while filming.

Regarding the remastered 5.1 surround mix, I watched the film on Blu-ray. It sounds fine but I also had to turn up the volume to around 30 just to be able to hear the audio. That could also be because of the noise distractions in my apartment, too, as is often the case during summer.

If it didn’t launch Christopher Nolan’s career, we wouldn’t be discussing Following but the film is a great example efficient DIY filmmaking.

CAST: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, John Nolan

Zeitgeist Films released Following in theaters on April 2, 1999. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.