Sabbath Reviews: Following (1998)

Directed and Written by: Christopher Nolan

In 2010, the name Christopher Nolan has entered the vocabulary of film aficionados and casual film goers alike. The majority of people associate Nolan with the reboot of the Batman franchise, saving the caped crusader from the clutches of his arch foe, Joel Schumacher. After The Dark Knight, Nolan directed a little sci-fi psycho thriller called Inception, heard of it? Of course you have. It hit the world like a hurricane when it came out and is currently nominated for 4 Golden Globe Awards. There’s also another group of you going …. hey, don’t forget The Prestige. I won’t. Also a film that I thought was excellent, but obviously not amongst his most popular, but that’s what I’m counting on the other collection of you to chime in with …

Memento. In 2000, Christopher Nolan directed the critically acclaimed psychological thriller about a man with anterograde amnesia, making use of non-linear storytelling to tell a very compelling tale. The film geeks out there might get where I’m going with this though. This was not the first time Nolan had used non-linear storytelling. While a good amount of people know of Memento, a smaller faction know that his first feature length film was made on a budget of $6,000 and filmed on weekends with his cast and crew because they all had full time jobs. That film is the one I’m reviewing today. 1998’s own Following was in fact Christopher Nolan’s feature length debut, not Memento.

First of all …. I’m not attempting to go for a theme here … I know I talked a bit about “low budget filmmaking” and low budget filmmaking when I reviewed Six-String Samurai. Nolan’s first real outing was done in much the style I’m familiar with and as much as Robert Rodriguez’ success story is a beacon of hope for budding filmmaking, so to is Nolan’s. He just hasn’t written his version of Rebel Without A Crew yet.

Following is the story about a young man named Bill (Jeremy Theobald) … who’s a writer … who just happens to decide to follow people randomly. Bill comes up with a couple of pretty good rules, you know, like don’t follow women down dark alleys. It’s just not polite and pretty damn creepy. One of his other rules is that once he’s established where a person lives or works, he won’t follow them again. The problem occurs when he breaks his rule.

Cobb (Alex Haw) is a well-groomed man whom Bill decides to follow and — this time — things don’t go as planned. Bill follows his target into a restaurant, orders his food, and is then confronted by Cobb. After the initial awkward conversation, Cobb does reveal himself to be a burglar and this intrigues Bill who begins to accompany this man on his burglaries. Cobb isn’t a normal burglar. He’s articulate, handsome, and he has a romanticized notion about why he does what he does.

“You take it away… to show them what they had. ” — is just one of Cobb’s many poetic justifications for his actions. Cobb also has a particular knack for reading people based on the items in their homes, as he routinely showcases, including in one particular scene where Bill takes Cobb to his own apartment and pretends for it to be a random stranger they’re burglarizing. He feeds Cobb some bullshit about how the resident works at a bank — and Cobb calls it. Whoever lives there is unemployed, and basically a loser. At this point we can see Bill is becoming thirsty to become someone he’s not, to be someone more like Cobb.

He doesn’t just accompany his mentor anymore. He becomes an active thief, stealing items from the houses they intrude into. “Disrupting lives” as Cobb refers to it becomes a thrill for Bill, and this thrill ride eventually leads him to the home of “The Blonde” (Lucy Russell). After stealing her underwear, some photographs, etc. Bill becomes infatuated with her and decides to take up his previous habits and follows her.

The two begin a relationship and she tells him about the burglary. Of course, Bill plays dumb but continuously asks her how it made her feel. However, things are more twisted than they seem.

Relationships intertwine in ways you never see coming in this movie. While M. Night has been a hack for a long time, Nolan genuinely introduces twists and layers in a very natural way. The beauty of Nolan’s work is that he always knows what he wants to say and he says it. There’s a lot of nooks and crannies to be talked about, but one of the more simple and elegant themes of this movie is the individual. On any daily basis, you see hundreds of people that you know nothing about and this movie questions — ‘what would it be like to walk a mile in their shoes?’ in an almost literal way. Bill’s developed compulsion to follow people explores this and then adds the price to pay for doing so …. maybe it’s best not to pry into people’s lives. How much can you really know a person? What makes a person themselves? What they own? What they say … or what they hide?

I’m not trying to be some deep, artistic twit and I don’t pretend to be but there’s some real shit going on here and it’s not hidden behind Picasso-like abstractions. Just good old fashioned storytelling.

Following is what makes Christopher Nolan one of the greatest filmmakers to emerge within the last two decades. He’s brilliant. On a limited budget, with limited resources and time, he churned out a 69 minute neo-noir with stunning, simplistic visuals (each frame could be mounted on the wall, easily) and a compelling story. Yeah, the run time is short but Nolan told his story. Every last minute was worth it. There was no drag … and trust me … drag can really ruin a film.

As in Memento, the non-linear storytelling adds a lot to the movie. It’s important to see, for example, a scene where Bill says something only to travel back in time and see how fucking blatantly he lied. It’s important because it’s all a part of his downward spiral into this life. You get the feeling this wasn’t always him, but he’s loving the transformation and unfortunately for him, other people are loving it for the worst of reasons. Spoiling the ending would be a grave injustice, so I won’t. The point is if you’re a Nolan fan, do check out his original feature length. I expect a lot more good to come from this guy. I might cry when he makes that shitty movie that all good directors are destined to make, but I’ll bounce back and keep on supporting him. With $6,000 dollars he produced this, which gives him some serious cred in my book. Now he can make all the big budget, spectacle filled movie he wants because I know what he can do with barely any cash and just a lot of passion.

Kudos to you, Mr. Nolan. Kudos.

— Sabbath


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