Christopher Nolan’s first feature, Following – a small “no-budget” experiment – is a fitting introduction to all of the trademark tropes that have appeared throughout his career ever since. About as noir as they come, complete with gritty black-and-white film and a femme fatale, it centres around an unemployed, aspiring writer (referred to as ‘Bill’ but credited only as ‘The Young Man’) played by Jeremy Theobald, who has an unhealthy habit of shadowing random strangers he spots in the street to help spark inspiration for his characters.
When confronted unexpectedly by one of his “regular” subjects (Alex Haw, in his only acting role) – who reveals himself to be a burglar and extends an invitation to join one of his typical domestic break-ins – Bill’s obsession for interfering in the lives of others is invigorated irreversibly; who knew you could learn so much about someone you’ve never met by rifling through their underwear drawer? Thus begins a slippery slope, as Bill becomes rapidly seduced by the excitement and escapism of his newfound criminal persona. Not least of his worries, though, is Lucy Russell’s ‘The Blonde’, who has more than a few secrets of her own…
Skipping forwards and backwards in the story’s chronology, Following is the earliest demonstration of Nolan’s fascination with time. Despite the relative simplicity of the plot, he arranges the puzzle expertly to set up certain enigmas for the viewer, who must then rely on visual clues (a haircut, a bruise, a new suit… and so on) to piece together “ When are we, and how did we get here?”.
Bearing in mind that Nolan wrote, directed, shot and co-edited the film himself over an entire year, whilst the entire cast and crew also worked full-time jobs, the film’s home-made aesthetic is on the one hand inevitable, but somehow also filled with purpose – the use of natural lighting and real begged-and-borrowed locations in particular contribute to a unique atmosphere that feels eerily both real and surreal .
Although it feels much like a short film (in fact, at just short of 70 minutes in length it almost qualifies as one!) and the acting is undeniably a bit ropey, Following is a fascinating glimpse at the earliest manifestation of Nolan’s signature style: a non-linear, noirish crime thriller featuring morally ambiguous characters and core themes of identity and obsession. All flaws aside, it’s an impressive directorial debut and worth a look-in if you’re a Nolan fan and ever find yourself with an hour or so free.
The work of Christopher Nolan was recently covered in two episodes of the CineChat Podcast. Check out the episodes below –