Everyone has to start somewhere, and for genius director Christopher Nolan, that movie was Following.
Shot in stark, black and white 16mm stock, Nolan sets the stage for a modern film noir (postnoir?). Bill, between jobs, starts following people in the street. He starts out innocuously, restrained by a code of strict rules, but then begins to take risks when a well-groomed man piques his interest. This man, Cobb, confronts him, and soon the two partner up in Cobb’s break-ins. The burglaries are interesting because Cobb seems more interested in learning about and fucking with the lives of his victims than with stealing their stuff. Bill is seduced by this mysterious and glamorous lifestyle and is soon acting without his mentor. This of course leads him down an even more dangerous path of crime. The movie ends abruptly, I felt (I had to check of maybe it was a two-parter), after a quick 70 minutes.
Do you see a lot of Chris Nolan in this film? Initially I thought no. I’m used to his big, cinematic scapes, whereas this movie has a lot of very tight, close shots. But the story is told out of sequence, keeping us off balance, reminding us that we don’t know as much as we think we do – and that non-linear kind of story-telling is, as you know, very Nolan. To attempt this on a first feature, with no budget, took a whole heap of faith. It marked him as a director with a lot of imagination and a meticulousness for details – both of which helped qualify him for his astonishing follow-up, Momento.
He shot Following just on weekends because his actors and crew all had full-time jobs. He used film conservatively to keep costs down and usually only managed to capture about 15 minutes a day. At that rate, it took them a year to film on a no-budget of just $6000. Nolan wrote, directed and filmed his baby, and helped to edit it too. His friends gave up their apartments for locations and his Mum made sandwiches for the cast and crew. This is obviously not his great oeuvre but it does show a confident young man and tonnes of promise. A tidy little movie that still manages to include a cross, a double cross, a tripe cross – maybe this film isn’t quite so far off the Nolan mark as I first thought. The characters are brooding and enigmatic. The look of the film achieves something atmospheric despite the absence of movie lighting. And the over-arching theme of obsession? That’s pretty familiar Nolan territory.
So I suppose we can watch this decent little indie flick and see hints of coming greatness. Certainly it’s a step in the direction of darkness – and Mr. Nolan is known not just for reviving the Batman franchise but for injecting the whole superhero industry with a trend toward darker reboots. He can be demanding of his audience and he can infuriatingly reward us with an ambiguous ending – but isn’t that just the Nolan charm?
What’s your favourite Chris Nolan?