Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, John Nolan
Messing about with random people may serve as an intriguing exercise and can be done to spur inspiration in seeing authentic human experiences. However, the random selection involved may cause the individual to find instances where they may discover unsavory people, which Following details. Biting off more than he can chew, the protagonist of this feature gets involved with something he had no clue would escalate beyond his control.
As an aspiring writer, a young man (Jeremy Theobald) decides to strike inspiration by just following people. After a while, he develops certain rules and guidelines as to how he will follow others until getting caught by a man named Cobb (Alex Haw). This mysterious man enjoys breaking into homes but not necessarily to burgle, which fascinates the young man to the point where he plays along.
Rolling with a protagonist with no name is certainly not a new storytelling tactic but it does set a character behind the 8-ball in regard to connecting with audience members. As emotional creatures, knowing someone’s name stands as one of the first aspects pushing us towards a connection but in the case of Following, it becomes less about the individual at the center of this story but rather the messy situation he found himself in. Going about following people seems like a creepy thing to do, but he develops rules in order to not scare the people he follows and understands instances where his presence as a man could cause a fright. For example, he does not follow women at night because of the fear it could cause. He establishes these rules and once he breaks them is where the trouble begins.
Serving as Christopher Nolan’s first feature, this work displays narrative ambition in the non-linear story structure with a very limited budget. Nothing dazzling about the feature comes from its visuals but rather how the story gets framed and directly causes confusion through its structure. The disconnect of not knowing much about the protagonist perpetuates the confusion when the narrative shows him looking differently throughout the story, which evidently tips the hand of this being non-linear. It sets up the puzzle of this narrative. Information gets disseminated out of order and an insignificant event earlier in the film comes back around with tremendous importance because a scene later in the story leads up to the earlier scene. It’s obvious Christopher Nolan was fine-tuning his filmmaking capabilities with this feature, especially when he follows it up more astutely in Memento.
The protagonist of the feature lies behind anonymity but the same occurs with the other characters, it just does not become as noticeable. Cobb does not necessarily appear to be the same individual he presents himself to be and the woman at the center of this neo-noir story never as much receives a name, credited as The Blonde. They serve merely as chess pawns and a less intriguing story would have made the whole exercise hollow, but Following creates just enough of a fascinating puzzle that you need to get to the endgame with all of the betrayals eventually coming to a climax narratively. With the intrigue of the structure, it also gets into the head of the protagonist and Cobb in their philosophies, which culminates in some thought-provoking conversation.
When the young man follows Cobb and gets involved with his burglary attempts, the reasons for them may confuse those who assume the man steals for monetary gain. Instead, he speaks on creating a level of chaos for the houses he enters. Truly strange in ways but it shows he thinks in a manner outside what the average person would do. He likes to find the box where people keep their most personal belongings and leave it open so when the homeowners return, they feel a level of violation higher than if their television got taken. Quite sinister when you think of it but remains one of the biggest reasons why the young man continues on with this journey. Working as a writer, no other person could be more intriguing to write about and his authorial ambitions get him mixed up in an uncontrollable circumstance.
Humbly made but sowing the seeds for what will be a tremendous filmmaker, Following shows the world what Christopher Nolan can do behind the camera. He works so well in creating a clear and cohesive story despite the non-linear structure and initial confusion as he brings it all together in such a satisfying way. He does not flashback recaps to show where the twists occur because the narrative lays it out clearly and in a way where enjoyment can be received. Truly a film to watch for more than just being a Christopher Nolan completionist as it has plenty to appreciate on a story level.