Following (1999)

by Paul on December 20, 2012

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★★★★

 

I think that a director’s first film is an extremely insightful way to see how their career is going to go. Unlike later films, the first film can have years of thought put into it, and the idea is so clearly formed in the director’s mind that we get to see all that the given director is capable of being. Christopher Nolan is one of the most sought after and acclaimed directorsFollowing (1999) working today. Before he took the reins of his highly acclaimed Batman trilogy, he had made only three full-length films, but each showed his ability to take a dark story and make it extremely entertaining and suspenseful. His first film was Following (1999), and although it is still his least seen film, it stands out because of its brilliant originality and cutting edge storytelling ability.

Following is presented in a non-linear format that is partially narrated by the main character, as he tells his side of the story to a police detective. The film stars Jeremy Theobald as an unnamed young aspiring writer, who begins to follow people around the streets of London in order to gain insights into people interests, thus acquiring the ability to better write his own characters.  It becomes addictive for him, and he soon has to implement a series of rules in order to not become obsessed. He begins following a man named Cobb (Alex Haw), but Cobb instantly recognizes that he is being followed and therefore confronts his follower. It turns out that Cobb is a thief who breaks into people’s homes, not because he has to, but because he enjoys invading the lives of his targets. He often will hide objects or rummage through their personal items, just to make people fell uncomfortable and violated.

Following (1999)Our follower becomes intrigued by this new world, especially when he invades the home of a beautiful young woman (Lucy Russell). After stealing from her, he approaches her at a bar, thus sparking a personal relationship between them. He tries to help her with her own personal problems, as well as improve his own miserable life, which leads to an intense and dangerous climax.

Following was shot in 16mm, and took advantage of natural lighting wherever possible. It was extensively rehearsed to avoid wasting film, and everyone involved with the project also had their regular day jobs, creating a much longer shooting schedule than most films. In addition to directing the film, Christopher Nolan wrote, edited, and served as his own cinematographer. His wife (Emma Thomas) served as producer. It is a true independent film that shows Nolan’s heart and soul as every detail is painstakingly calculated, in order to have the greatest possible finished product.

Typical with other films of the late 1990’s, Following is filled with an unsettling darkness, as well as having a violent tone surrounding it. Due to the low budget, Nolan cleverly hides the real violence and leaves more to the imagination than anything else. As all movie lovers are aware, our own imagination always makes things worse anyway. It is just anotherFollowing (1999) example of Nolan’s joy in messing with his audience. Much the same way his characters in Following enjoy disrupting the lives of the people that they steal from or follow, Nolan likes to disrupt the world of his viewers, and therefore make them sit up and pay close attention to the details of his film. If you were to only watch this film half-heartedly, then there would inevitable be things that you missed, resulting in you enjoying the film less than if you had paid closer attention. Nolan makes you work in order to enjoy his films as fully as possible, and the payoff (as it often is in a Nolan film), is certainly worth your effort.

Following stands out because, in addition to a compelling and enjoyable story, Nolan has put the film together in a way that creates more mystery than just what is in the story. The non-linear format actually makes this a better movie, much like his next feature, Memento (2000). If either of these films were to be told in a linear format, the suspense would be lessened and some sections would make the film seem slower.

Christopher Nolan is more than a great storyteller; he is a great filmmaker. The fact that this was his first film just stresses how talented he is, and how far his potential could continue. He is not only one of the best filmmakers working Following (1999)today, he could very well continue to be one of the greatest of all time.

Continuing in their tradition of recognizing some of the underrated gems of the movie world, the Criterion Collection has recently added this film to their collection. The newly restored digital transfer is absolutely breathtaking, and it is hard to believe that it originated as a low budget 16mm film. They have done an excellent job presenting this film in the highest quality available, making the experience enhanced for everyone who gives the film an opportunity. As a special bonus feature, the disc also includes one of Christopher Nolan’s early short films, Doodlebug (1997).

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Teddy December 23, 2012 at 11:56 AM

This movie is the exact reason why I feel disenchanted with Christopher Nolan as of late. My first Nolan was The Prestige and liked it. Then came Inception, which I found nice. Then his Batman series, which I find simply overrated albeit still good. However, I was then convinced to watch Memento, Insomnia and finally Following. I love the last three, A LOT. To me, Nolan is getting worse as a director. I feel he is sacrificing great stories/characters to focus mostly on the visuals and technical achievements. I want him to go back to stuff like Following. This movie is simply amazing from beginning to end.

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Paul December 23, 2012 at 12:29 PM

I agree that “Memento” and “Following” are his two best movies because of the originality and sharpness with which they were made. As he continued with “Insomnia” and “The Prestige” it became important to achieve a wider popularity in order to gain notoriety. Throughout the history of film, many great directors found fame with their early films, but then hit a period where they are forced to make commercially successful movies, and those of us who fell in love with their early films become somewhat disillusioned by what they are created. Obviously Nolan has proven his ability to be commercially successful, and I hope he can now get back to the kind of movies that made him popular originally.

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