Christopher Nolan is undoubtedly one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation. He’s one of few directors to tout a flawless filmography; not a single one of his movies has been considered a “flop”. I believe that in 20 years, when my generation of filmmakers is talking about their cinematic heroes, Nolan will be in the conversation with nearly everyone. He is certainly on my personal list of special filmmakers, as he is the director who first captured my attention and showed me the power that a movie could wield.
Next week, he will be releasing his highly anticipated war film Dunkirk. On the occasion of his latest endeavor, I thought it would be great to go back and review his entire filmography, which began in 1998 with this special little movie called Following.
Nolan’s vision is defined by scope and complexity; however, Following is perhaps one of the most inspirational films in terms of its shockingly low budget. The mind behind Inception and Interstellar made his first movie, famously, for a budget in the ballpark of $6,000. Tarantino began his career with a one million dollar budget, and Richard Linklater’s famously cheap Slacker even costs $23,000 to make. So to say that Nolan’s achievement is remarkable is an understatement; it’s a true example of a DIY mentality behind the camera. He shot the film himself with friends and family, on 16mm, and edited the film himself as well. And that’s part of what makes this movie so special; for budding filmmakers, they can look to Following as an example that a movie can be made, even if you lack financial resources or a solid network.
A cheap movie is always inspirational, but inspiration only goes so far if the movie is no good. Luckily, Following is a solid debut for the first-time filmmaker, and it fits perfectly with Nolan’s other films, stylistically speaking. Nolan fanatics will recognize his visual style upon the opening sequence, which shows a pair of hands slipping on gloves and simply rummaging through a box. They will also take note of Following’s extremely complex story; in many ways, it was a perfect thesis statement narratively for what the rest of his movies would be like. Similar to Inception or Memento, one has to pay careful attention to Following in order to understand the film by the time the credits roll, and it does benefit from multiple viewings. It’s nonlinear story structure is carefully crafted and works brilliantly, but you must give the film its runtime and pay attention to details. Visual queue’s, like wardrobe or haircuts, let the audience know when they’ve jumped forwards or backwards in the story; and ultimately, it all does culminate into a merging of the two in a thrilling climax.
There are some gripes to be had with the film, but they are small and understandable due to the film’s extremely low budget. Some of the acting, for example, can be a bit rough in a couple of scenes; however, one must consider that Nolan was using his friends, and not professional actors. With this fact taken into account, it’s actually fairly remarkable that he got the performances out of them that he did. From the sympathetic lead, to his cool mentor, and his Hitchock-blonde of a love interest, everyone gives solid performances overall; but their skill level does show itself in a couple of the more dramatic scenes. Furthermore, the lack of money for more believable action or sound effects is noticeable, but I personally never feel as if it took me out of the story. For one, they are few and far between; and, also, one is so invested in the characters and following the complex narrative that you hardly have time to care. Still, you will notice. Similarly, you will notice some shaky street footage that can be a bit nauseating to watch. Even so, one must remember that this is Nolan literally walking with the camera in hand; there are no Stedi-Cams or special rigs to help smooth out the motion. But again, it’s only noticeable in a couple of scenes towards the beginning, and by the time things get rolling it is no longer an issue. All this is to say that like any movie, there are flaws, but almost all of them are a result of lack of resources at the time more-so than Nolan as a filmmaker.
One last thing I’d like to applaud about Following is it’s compelling twists that if offers that typical burglar story. The reasoning behind the burglaries is original and very interesting, from a psychological standpoint. It also offers the narrative some intriguing thematic depth. These thieves are not stealing for money, although money plays a part; they are stealing in order to inhabit the lives of other people, and make them appreciate their belongings in the process. That’s a fresh take on the standard burglar archetype, and a welcome dose of originality.
If you haven’t seen Following, and you are a fan of Nolan’s other films, then it is really worth checking out. At the time of writing this review, it’s available to stream on Netflix. It’s a very short film, coming it at roughly 70 minutes. Even so, it’s got a compelling plot and plenty of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat-just pay close attention. 😉