Following on from last week’s review of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, it feels like the right time for a supporting review of Nolan’s auspicious debut feature Following, also recently re-issued by 101 Black Label on blu-ray. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Nolan was the next big thing, coming up to Edinburgh’s Film Festival to promote this short, black and white film noir which gave us a first taste of Nolan’s unique approach to film-making. Tarkovsky’s notions of ‘sculpting in time’ seems appropriate to Nolan’s creative work, and no amount of mainstream space or superhero movies has dulled the allure of his technique to date.
In a tricky scenario that recalls events in Paul Auster’s novel New York Stories, writer Bill (Jeremy Theobald) is an outsider ‘looking for a way in’ as he wanders the streets of London. Bill starts to follows people around; Bill claims this is for research purposes, but the activity feels rather more furtive and more sinister than that. A chance encounter with Cobb (Alex Haw) quite literally opens a door for Bill into a noir world hidden in plain sight; Cobb is a burglar, lacking in any moral compunction about his actions, not particularly interested in monetary gain, more interested in the act of theft itself. Bill also begins to obsess about a mysterious woman known as The Blonde (Lucy Russell), but is she all that she seems, and is Bill the hunter or the hunted in this narrative?
‘The following is my explanation. Well, more of an account of what happened. I’d been on my own for a while and getting kind of lonely…’ With three separate time-lines to explore, Following looked smart and promising back in 1999, but a lot of Nolan has passed under the bridge since then, and his enthusiasm for smartly dressed men walking briskly in corridors, then unzipping luggage in anonymous rooms are less of a surprise to us post Inception and Oppenheimer. A surreal and disturbing early flash-forward of a man spitting out a rubber glove adds a sinister edge; while other films of the time, say the recent Oscar-winner Parasite or Kim-Ki Duk’s 2004 movie 3 Iron, had similar notions of housebreaking as voyeurism, and observing people through the contents of their houses, Following has the narrative chops to resolve a traditional twist plot with a firm, cinematic resolution. As with Memento and Oppenheimer, there’s an innocent, a trap, and a scheme that we see resolved much as the protagonist does, but far too late to stop it; we’re caught in the trap just like Bill, in a complex world that he can barely comprehend.
Following’s spare visual style hasn’t got the bells and whistles of The Prestige or Tenet; it’s a black and white noir with minimal production values, mainly terse conversations in dead spaces, cafes and flats. But as with most of Nolan’s intricate, challenging films, Following turns out to be far more than the sum of its parts; Bill and Cobb seem to become one single individual, but that sense of merging proves to be an illusion when Bill finally realises that the individuality he craves is at the expense of becoming a victim. With a Criterion print as a master, this is another great blu-ray pressing from the 101 Black label, with incisive new interviews and an embryonic short by Nolan, Doodlebug. Nolan is arguably the pre-eminent male film-maker of the moment, and fans of his mainstream work may want to trace the time-line back to Following, and a ‘beyond the surface’ worldview that led to The Dark Knight, Interstellar and beyond.
- New: Unfollow – Director Christopher Nolan on Following
- New: Dreamcatching – Producer Emma Thomas on Following
- New: Wandering – Actor Jeremy Theobald on Following
- New: The Blonde – Actor Lucy Russell on Following
- New: Backtracking – Editor Gareth Heal on Following
- New: Setting the Pace – Composer David Julyan on Following
- New: Pay Attention – Jonathan Nolan on Following
- New: Following in their Footsteps – Actors Jeremy Theobald & Lucy Russell revisit exterior locations from
- New: Commentary with actor Jeremy Theobald and film critic James Mottram.
- New: Limited Edition Booklet: Includes ‘What’s in the Box? Lifting the Lid on Christopher Nolan’s debut’ by James Mottram and ‘Lingering Shadows: A Look at Christopher Nolan’s Early Neo-Noir, Following’ by Andrew Graves
- Doodlebug – Short Film by Christopher Nolan
- Theatrical Trailer
Link below; Thanks to 101 Films Black Label for Blu-ray access to Following.