Summary: Lean, mean, rich film noir.
Review: Christopher Nolan’s rarely-seen first film, ‘Following’, is a claustrophobic, intricate noir. Here we enter an urban jungle populated by crafty criminals, femme fatales, and eccentrics; one such eccentric is Bill, a struggling writer who stalks people. He does so because he needs experiences to write from, but it becomes an obsession, compelling him to invade the lives of others further and further. With the help of a man named Cobb, he becomes a thief. Cobb’s motivation is simple, “You take it away… to show them what they had,” but Cobb is far more devoted to this fiendish ideal than Bill realizes.
‘Following’ is spellbinding. Unlike many low-budget, independent filmmakers, Nolan makes his limitations work for him. Aesthetically, the film is grungy, off-kilter and bleak, the perfect feel for a neo-noir. The story is quick to the point and has no fat. Nolan makes use of the fractured narrative — something that would become his signature — to keep us disoriented, uncomfortable, and on our toes. There is never anything uninteresting; every detail has some significance.
The film’s central themes are invasion and manipulation. The idea of following random people, just to get a glimpse into their lives, is downright prescient. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, I can do that from the comfort of my couch. Most films about thieves center around greed, but the character Cobb insists that burglary isn’t the point. Cobb wants to touch the human soul, to remind them of something they’d once known is true, but chose to forget. He insists that “Everyone has a box”, a place in their homes where they keep their most prized mementos. This functions like the safe in ‘Inception’, where the dreamer keeps their secrets. Bill is attracted to Cobb’s seeming nobility, his philosophical approach, his comfort in such a risky enterprise. But Cobb isn’t noble, he’s a predator, and whatever rhetoric he espouses to justify his bizarre lifestyle is just a cloak.
Bill’s identity as a writer tells me that Nolan created the character autobiographically, at least to some extent. Writer’s block is the worst, and I have contemplated carrying a notebook and observing people for inspiration. When I realized the cost, I considered writing it into a screenplay, only being simultaneously disappointed and relieved that Nolan had already used the concept. What happens to Bill, then, is every writer’s subconscious fear, that the world they strive to create will swallow them up.
I highly recommend ‘Following’ to fans of Christopher Nolan, film noir, independent film, and film in general.
Buy It From Amazon: Following