johnlink ranks FOLLOWING (1998)

Maybe this makes me a poor student of film, but I never knew Christopher Nolan had an early black and white film called FOLLOWING. I found it on Amazon Prime and thought I would give it a run.


I watched FOLLOWING (1998) on 11.13.13. It was my first viewing of the film.

A 28 year old Christopher Nolan made a film in 1998 which foreshadowed themes and concepts which would follow him throughout his career (and not just in the Batman symbol which appears on an apartment door).

A young man (Jeremy Theobald) is an aspiring writer who follows people in an effort to discover who they are. One of his marks, Cobb (Alex Haw) confronts him. Turns out Cobb is a thief who robs very little of value, instead hoping to shake up their lives by revealing what they have to lose. It’s a highbrow concept, one which taps into the vein of a film like AMERICAN PSYCHO. There is a neurosis about Cobb which seems infectious; the young man soon shaves and dresses like Cobb as they begin to work together.

The young man, however, comes to fancy one of their victims. He sees her socially after the theft, inquiring about how the violation made her feel as his increased confidence helps his ability to seduce her.

This is a film about voyeurism and about ¬†watching. When the young man first follows people, we see a mark behind a window with the face obscured. In the beginning, in the purest form of the watching, his interest is almost anonymous; he doesn’t really care who they are. Cobb’s influence is what makes him really notice details he had previously been unable to see. Despite being a follower, it would seem the young man wasn’t particularly good at it.

Nolan films in a non-linear way, anticipating his follow up film MEMENTO. Like that film, we then get to see what becomes of the young man before we see what made him become that way. We watch his progress in a bouncing timeline which slowly reveals truth. In that way, the writing is a  bit too manipulative. An early scene has the young man checking a bench for something. The following scene shows us why. This sort of thing is clever, and certainly begs us to watch the film again to see those things we missed in the opening shots. Yet, somehow, it feels like an imperfect device. It makes us aware of the intrusion of the filmmaker in a way Nolan would become craftier about as his career went on.

The non-linear editing is also not always clear in its chronology. Certainly that is not a knock; a film which refuses to hold your hand is much better (generally speaking) then one which feels the need to baby its audience. The constant shifting can be a little bit confusing as the film moves forward, though never in a way which fully pulls you from the movie. Instead a sharp focus on ‘when’ something is happening sometimes distracts from the importance of ‘what’ is actually happening right in front of you. This, once again, is begging its viewer to come back and watch the film once more.

Which is not to say this is a weak film by any means. On the contrary, this is a really good film. Sound design and a dissonant score prove important here in setting tone, something which Nolan would continue to focus on. This movie dares to ask big questions about identity, trust, power, and integrity (as do THE PRESTIGE, INCEPTION, and the Batman films). It’s ambitious in its dialogue, even if a couple of moments of ‘casual’ conversation feel too carefully written. The black-and-white movie looks wonderful, and the camerawork is instinctive. This doesn’t feel like a first film from an amateur. It feels polished and smart, the ending especially feels clean. This is a film which owes some to a movie like THE USUAL SUSPECTS, even if it doesn’t tie up all of the beginning coincidence as well. In that way, it may not be quite as good of a film, but it certainly isn’t for a lack of trying or passion.

For Nolan fans, or for fans of the thriller genre, this one is certainly a must see.






~ by johnlink00 on November 14, 2013.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks FOLLOWING (1998)”

  1. I like how you related the theme to American Psycho. It really reminded me of Fight Club with loss of possessions that make you realize what’s important concept.

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