Following stretched the concept of low-budget films to its very extreme. Shot in 16-mm grainy black-and-white stocks, the movie at first glance might appear to be a deeply experimental and esoteric film – something like Darren Aronofsky’s mind-boggling Pi. Thankfully, it has turned out to be a far more engrossing effort. Shot only on weekends, with a budget of $6000, with non-professionals, without the use of any artificial lighting, and by a person with little hitherto experience in this field, Following is a fascinating treatise on minimalism and efficiency.
On the occasion of Christopher Nolan’s latest offering to the world of cinema – the hugely anticipated follow-up to his critically acclaimed Batman Begins – The Dark Knight, I feel it is incumbent upon me to introduce fellow cinephiles to his terrific debut feature.
Hugely talented directors making an astonishing film debut is as old as the very art itself. Think of Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Satyajit Ray, and you have a strong case in point. And then there are filmmakers, who didn’t have such an enormous impact from a historical or cultural point of view with their first film in the same mould as the afore-mentioned directors; yet they play an enormous role in being a preamble of sorts to their subsequent efforts. Martin Scorcese belongs to this latter group, his Who’s That Knocking At My Door? was an excellent precursor to his three masterpieces – Mean Streets (which can easily be considered to be a sequel of sorts to Who’s That…), Taxi Driver and Raging Bull – in terms of exploring the themes of guilt and redemption introduced in his first feature. The same holds true for Christopher Nolan as well.
I watched Nolan’s debut film Following after I had watched his subsequent films, most notably his unforgettable sophomore movie Memento. On hindsight I feel that was a good thing to do as I could put this film in proper perspective. From the very first film itself Nolan’s audacity and his terrific control over the medium are amply evident, as are his liking for taking on the viewers on devious, deeply involving tours.
I must admit Following is taxing on the viewers in that the narrative is fractured and the chronology of time has been done away with. In fact in lesser hands this might have turned out to be a cheap stunt. But as Alejandro Gonzales did with his explosive debut film Amores Perros, or Nichlas Roeg did with his controversial Bad Timing, or for that matter Nolan himself did with Memento, Following came off very well. In fact the fractured narrative plays an important role in heightening the experience of watching the film in terms of character and plot developments.
Before I delve into the plot of the movie, let me say a thing or two about the making of the film. Following stretched the concept of low-budget films to its very extreme. Shot in 16-mm grainy black-and-white stocks, the movie at first glance might appear to be a deeply experimental and esoteric film – something like Darren Aronofsky’s mind-boggling Pi. Thankfully, it has turned out to be a far more engrossing effort. Shot only on weekends, with a budget of $6000, with non-professionals, without the use of any artificial lighting, and by a person with little hitherto experience in this field, Following is a fascinating treatise on minimalism and efficiency.
The movie opens with Bill aka The Young Man – an unemployed wannabe writer, speaking to a police investigator, of a strange habit that he developed during moments of severe loneliness – that of randomly following people on the streets of London. This seemingly inane act of his, as he goes on to explain, leads to truly terrible circumstances. As in any classic noir, a simple turn of fate or chance meeting leads to horrible spiralling of events; in this case it is his fateful encounter with Cobb – a hustler and a loner, who randomly breaks into houses and apartments just to mess up with the belongings of the owners and take away some seemingly unimportant items as memento. The sole aim, as he puts it, is to mess up the lives of those to whom these apartments belong.
Revealing any more spoilers would be criminal of me because what follows must be seen to be savoured. There are enough twists to leave even a “professional” film goer hapless and guessing like a child. And I must add, the plot twists are extremely well concocted and damn delicious to say the least. Cerebral in content, dark as far as the mood goes, noirish in feel, and crafty in its final execution, the movie has everything that a lover of film noirs would want – a fantastic storyline laced with doom and trouble, great dialogues, wonderful interplay of lights and shadows (chiaraskuro), a seductive femme fatale with empathy and damsel-in-distress strewn all over her face but with a heart as cold as a dead turkey, an otherwise harmless and nice man led to nadir through no great fault of his, classical antiheroes, and an ending that is so bleak and ironic that even the most optimistic person would get robbed of his smiles.
I would strongly recommend this little known and watched cult classic to not just fellow Nolan aficionados and film noir lovers like me, but also to serious film lovers and young filmmakers to realise that money and material aren’t the most important necessities after all for making a good (in this case wonderful) movie. Damn Chris for making the job that much more difficult for first-timers!