By Afra Nariman
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, John Nolan
A young, aspiring writer in London follows strangers in the hope of using their lives as inspiration for his novels. It’s not long until he becomes obsessed, leading him down a dangerous road alongside dangerous people.
Have you ever been on a train, or on a bus, or just walking on the street and you see someone, and you think: I wonder what her story is, or, I wonder what he does for a living. Most people have probably had questions like those cross their mind at some point. In Christopher Nolan’s feature film debut, Following, he uses those questions as the starting-off point for a thrilling exploration of loneliness, curiosity and destructive obsession.
It follows a young, aspiring writer who spends his unemployed days in London, walking around, searching for inspiration for his novels and the characters in them. The film begins with a segment from the film’s ending, and continually jumps back and forth between two different parts of the story in between — which keeps us on our toes the whole time. The first scene shows the young writer providing an account of his story to a detective. He reveals that in his search for inspiration, he had been following people he thought seemed interesting, to see what they do, where they go, etc. He explains that at first he had rules, such as the one he broke first, which is: never follow the same person more than once. Once he began to break his rules, everything began to spiral out of his control, and we are given our story. He gets caught up with the wrong people, and eventually finds himself in a corner, with nowhere to go.
The film grips you right away with a believable story that slowly exaggerates itself. It isn’t Nolan’s best film, but running just about 70 minutes long, it absorbs you in many of the same ways as his best films do. It’s his most simple, pure and likely his most realistic one, though. Like many of his films, there is an interesting plot twist that will change the course of the story at the moment that it is introduced. In the middle parts of the movie, the focus is not exactly what ends up being the plot, but instead, on the burglaries that he finds himself taking part in committing — but not for the money. The film takes a somewhat romantic point of view on crime, and stealing. It all comes back to the theme of the thriller, and what gets the young writer in his predicament in the first place: People are interesting. We are given a perspective on burglarizing that we probably have never considered, which is that the #1 reason to commit the crime, is to get to know the strangers who live in that home, by looking at their stuff. It’s all weird, I know; but this obsession with getting to know people, that dictates the entire film’s progression, is what makes Following so interesting and at times, thought-provoking.
The film is relatively calm and methodical for the first half, but slowly and gradually reaches a point where things begin to quickly escalate. It keeps us hooked for it’s entire 70 minutes. Yes, it’s a short movie, but every second is packed with suspense — even the trivial moments and activities of the young writer. Following is Nolan through and through. It’s a thriller based on a very believable, yet unique storyline; it keeps you wholly involved in the story, it has a fluid timeline that is always in flux between two moments in time, and it arrives at a plot twist that changes the course of the entire story.
Shot in black and white, set up in a Noir-style mood, Following stands apart from the rest of Nolan’s filmography. Although it may not be his objectively best film; its level of simplicity, Noir-style and overall story of a young writer obsessed with finding inspiration for his stories, in those around him, makes Following one of his most unique, believable and approachable films. It may be hit-or-miss for some people, depending on how you feel about the style, but it’s definitely worth the watch regardless. I am not usually a fan of crime thrillers, but this one really clicked for me. It has been overlooked by critics and fans alike, compared to his more complicated and extravagant films; but the level of intricacy of the storytelling and filmmaking in Following is superb and masterful, especially considering that it was his first feature film and he made it with an unknown cast (who performed excellently). If you’re a fan of simplicity, Following is for you (as far as crime thrillers go).