Christopher Nolan’s first feature-film, Following, serves as proof of what one can achieve during the making of a “no-budget” film. Cobbled together on weekends when actors were available, Following has the rough-around-the-edge look of a French New-Wave film, but manages to be just as menacing and elaborately structured as Nolan’s more well-known films Memento and The Prestige.
Bill is a writer with nothing to write about, so he begins following people on the street. After doing this for a while he begins to make mistakes, and so he creates rules for himself to stay in check and stay safe. The rules are things like “never follow the same person twice”, and “don’t follow women into dark alleys”. While explaining his rules at the beginning of the film he says that “never follow the same person twice” was the first rule he broke. The results to that choice, I might add, are catastrophic for young Bill.
The man Bill decides to follow is a man named Cobb. One afternoon in a cafe Cobb confronts Bill who reveals himself to be a writer with nothing to write about, Cobb then reveals that he is a thief (keen-listeners will note that “Cobb” is the name of the thief in Nolan’s heist film Inception). So Cobb begins taking Bill with him on his “flat-jobs”.
The film’s story is told through three different timelines which all move forward and together at the end of the film. The structure feels somewhat clumsy when compared to Nolan’s later films, but reveals that even from the beginning of his career he had the ability to play with narrative structure in creative and interesting ways. The difference, however, is that in this film the “trick” editing feels unjustified by the film’s plot. In Memento and The Prestige the odd narrative structures are grounded in the way the plot functions (memory loss and two characters reading each other’s journals, respectively).
That said, the actual plot (“story”) is interesting, and the non-linear structure allows the film to build mystery in a way that would not be possible were the film told “straight”.
From a production standpoint the only negatives are really limitations put on the film by its having no budget (ie, things that were outside of Nolan’s control). Most of the film is shot handheld, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but at times it feels too shaky. Also, the sound quality is…iffy, in spots, and yet very clear in others. That said, the actual images Nolan captured are quite nice looking and goes along way to show how wonderful 16mm film can look in the right hands.
Following is worth watching if only to see where Nolan started. But the main attraction here is that it’s a fun way to spend an hour. The film is limited by its lack of budget (I know the feeling), but manages to rise above those limitations and shine as an example of what can be done with very little money.
The movie is currently streaming on Netflix, and was recently released on a fantastic blu-ray by The Criterion Collection. Make no mistakes, the blu-ray is gorgeous looking. If you’re a Nolan fan then check it out. If you’re a noir fan then check it out.
Here is the trailer: