Spoilers for Following.
Back in the summer of 2018 I wrote a series titled Appreciating Christopher Nolan where I took a dive into each one of his films and why they contributed to his status as my favorite director. Unfortunately, I made a glaring omission by leaving off Following. At the time, I didn’t do my research well enough and I thought that it would not count as one of his feature films (at 69 minutes, it doesn’t quite qualify according to some standards).
It turns out that Following certainly is Nolan’s debut feature film and it’s actually quite interesting to see how it informs his subsequent work. And in a way, it can be inspiring to aspiring filmmakers.
Jim Emerson wrote a nice piece detailing little ways Nolan previewed some of his future narrative proclivities with Following. Not only is the name of one of the main characters Cobb like the main character in Inception, but it also includes themes of anarchy, chaos, and individuality, non-linear storytelling, and even a Batman logo above an apartment door.
While Emerson points out lots of fun nuggets of information to connect to Nolan’s following movies, I want to take it a step further. Nolan creates an overall feel in this movie. From the very beginning, I notice a feeling similar to that of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, in which a man describes “the perfect murder.” Two complete strangers each have someone in their life they would like to “get rid of” so the proposed idea is to kill the opposite person’s victim, leaving no connection or motivation for the murder. It’s the deranged mind of a man trying to get away with something inherently wrong.
Similarly in Following, Cobb breaks into people’s homes, but not to steal their belongings. Rather, his motivation is to disrupt their home in order play screwed up mind games with them. It’s clear from the beginning of Nolan’s filmography that he shares similarities with Hitchcock. Nolan’s movies are akin to some of Hitchcock’s most iconic thrillers in a lot of ways including how they investigate people’s psyches, the darker areas of human nature, and how they choose to shoot their movies.
And the way Nolan previews his filmmaking style is something I’m particularly interested in when it comes to Following. He introduces his famous penchant for nonlinear storytelling here in this film. Out of his 10 films which have been released, only The Dark Knight deals with time in a traditionally linear manner. In each of his other movies, it seems like he is always trying to invent a new way to present his plot. And it all started with Following.
Effectively, this is Nolan’s trial run. He’s stated that Following was essentially a student film as he and his friends went around London shooting scenes and financing it on their own. They had a story to tell and they went out and told it.
Looking back 21 years later, Following is truly something special. It isn’t one of Nolan’s best movies, though it is still very good to great, but it seemed to help him prove to himself that he may actually be cut out to make movies. He was able to weave in his ideas about humanity and show off the filmmaking flourishes for which he is now so well known, allowing him to make some of the most financially successful original films of all time.
Thanks to Following, we have The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, and the rest of his catalogue. But most importantly, we have Christopher Nolan.
(To find an updated ranking of Nolan’s movies, check out the latest episode of the Robert’s Thoughts Moviecast!)