“Following” – Christopher Nolan’s baby steps

This is not what I thought I’d usually be doing. What I mean by that is to try and talk up a film that in itself is not that great, but I really think “Following” by Christopher Nolan deserves some good publicity (Especially because now you can watch it on DVD; no Blu-Ray though, sorry). It’s definitely worth seeing but not for the obvious reasons. It’s not going to be a movie that you’d recommend to a friend for a lazy Friday night in. And if you dare, you’re running the risk of them never asking you again, unless they are film foodies and/or they don’t mind the shortcomings of the movie that kind of go with it.

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So, I got a hold of the disc with this film, as it was quite recently released, for one reason and one reason only – it’s Chris Nolan’s first full feature movie. I always treasured these little gems because of their inherent beauty. These films will often show you where the guy comes from. They will show you the long way they’ve gone through. A quote from “Forrest Gump” fits just perfectly here:

“My momma always said you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, where the go, where they’ve been. I’ve worn lots of shoes, I bet if I think about it real hard I can remember my first pair of shoes.”

I’d go as far as to say that having to see someone’s first movie could be rather accurately described by this metaphor. It goes for directors, actors, screenwriters and so on… And in case of Nolan’s “Following”, you can clearly see the developing talent for story-telling and structure.

“Following” is basically a rather simple story that gets more and more complex in time. It’s about a man (no name, just a man, “The Young Man” – thanks, IMDb) who is a struggling artist bordering on a cliché. He’s unemployed, poor and is desperately trying to make it as a writer, but he has zero ideas on what to write about. So in order to tickle the muse within and find some useful ideas for characters or plots, he starts following random people around. Well, he’s unemployed which gives him all the time in the world to pursue this – otherwise rather unusual – hobby. He lays down some ground rules beforehand though, as he realizes that it’s too easy to cross the fine line between curiosity and stalking, so he tries not to follow the same people twice, or not to follow women down dark alleys. All he needs is to know something about them… until he meets the man with a bag. Because he’s curious of the contents of said bag he keeps following him around for quite a while. When the stalked man finds out about it and inadvertently confronts our protagonist (introduces himself as Cobb), he reveals to him that he is a burglar that breaks into people’s houses not to steal the obvious valuables, but for the same reasons that our guy follows them. Cobb just wants to see their lives from the inside. He looks for things that hold sentimental value to the owner and takes them. He invites our guy to join him in his “work” and that’s where the story gets more and more complicated. In short, “Following” is a story of a guy who follows another guy down the rabbit hole and while doing so he keeps disregarding more and more rules that he once used to live by.

Story-wise, “Following” is almost extraordinary for an amateur feature. It’s convoluted, gripping and mysterious. Of course, being a self-confessed cynic, I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t point out several glaringly obvious plot holes and short-cuts, but really this is not the time nor the place for this. It would just come across as a major case of douchebaggery on my part, because it would be almost comparable to criticizing a seven-year-old’s artwork for lack of style or uniqueness. You should know better than to do things like that.

And so, “Following” very much resembles a piece done by a child in many respects. The acting is atrocious at times, although The Young Man and Cobb have their moments at times. When it comes to technicalities, like sound editing or fight scene choreography, I’d better leave those alone because they come across as infantile and lackluster  However, bear in mind that the guys who made this film were complete amateurs (maybe educated, but still lacking the professional tint). Interestingly, the production and shooting took them almost a year because they could only work on the film during weekends, due to real-life commitments i.e. jobs and such. When you insert this piece of information into the equation and start looking at “Following” not as a professional film but as an intricately and lovingly executed hobby – it just gains a whole palette of different colours.

What is in my opinion the best thing about “Following” comes from what Nolan directed next, namely “Memento”. Looking from that perspective reveals that “Following” in the end served as the perfect training grounds for honing the editing and story-telling skills for a masterpiece that “Memento” undoubtedly was. The fragmented structure of the film, where at times you have to take time and position the scene in time in order to get a grip on what’s going on (and at times you can only do it by examining bruises on the protagonist’s face) gave the story an additional layer of complexity. And it doesn’t feel forced upon the viewer at all. It’s almost as if it was the only logical way to present the story in the most compelling way.

All things considered, “Following” by Nolan is definitely a must-see for anyone interested in good cinema. Apart from the reasons I mentioned already, it makes up for a decent dinner party conversation topic. After all, many people nowadays recognize Chris Nolan by his Batman Trilogy and Inception, whereas in my view, he made his best pieces much earlier. And “Following” fits very well in his resumé as a prelude for things to come.

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