Following 1998 Film Review

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Following: Christopher Nolan’s Impressive Debut

An Introduction to Following

In the realm of film noir, there are certain debut films that stand out for their brilliance, despite being made on limited budgets. David Lynch gave us “Eraserhead,” Darren Aronofsky presented “Pi,” Roman Polanski crafted “Knife in the Water,” and Christopher Nolan amazed audiences with “Following.” These films not only showcase the experimental styles and innovative storytelling techniques of their respective directors, but also lay the foundations for their later masterpieces. “Following,” shot in black-and-white on location with budgetary constraints, may appear unpolished, but it is infused with Nolan’s distinctive cinematic vision and his penchant for complex, non-linear narratives.

The Plot and Characters

“Following” introduces us to the Young Man (played by Jeremy Theobald), a lonely individual with aspirations to become a writer. He embarks on a peculiar game of following random people to learn about their lives and whereabouts. Through this game, he encounters Cobb (played by Alex Haw), a serial burglar who entices him into participating in a series of eccentric raids on unsuspecting homes. As their partnership evolves, the Young Man descends into a voyeuristic world of deviance and crime. However, everything changes when they target the Blond (played by Lucy Russell), a young woman who refuses to be just another victim.

Inspiration and Themes

Nolan drew inspiration for “Following” from his time living in London’s West End area during the 1990s, where he himself had been a victim of burglars. The film explores his fascination with loneliness in a crowded city and the illusionary barriers people create to maintain their privacy and individuality. The story confronts questions about the nature of following a stranger and the consequences of breaching someone’s personal boundaries. It all begins with the Young Man’s decision to follow Cobb, propelling us into an intriguing and mysterious narrative.

A Blend of Noir and European Satire

While “Following” adheres to the structure of classic film noir, Nolan infuses the story with his own unique touch. The film follows the familiar trajectory of an average Joe getting entangled in a web of crime and falling for a femme fatale who is involved with a powerful figure. Yet, Nolan’s narrative takes a step further by employing a non-linear approach, presenting the story in reverse at times. Though such techniques had been explored in previous films, like Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” “Following” still distinguishes itself with its own brand of irony and situational humor. This blend of noir elements and European satire contributes to the film’s distinctive flavor.

Power Dynamics and Identity Transformation

One of the thought-provoking aspects of “Following” is the exploration of power dynamics between the characters. The Young Man, initially shy and dreamy, becomes an apprentice to Cobb, a dominant and confident figure. As their identities and goals become blurred, the Young Man finds himself trying to transform into someone more like Cobb. This dynamic bears resemblance to Chuck Palahniuk’s novel “Fight Club,” published just two years prior to the release of “Following.” The exploration of this relationship between two contrasting individuals adds depth and intrigue to the narrative.

The Performances and Filmmaking Constraints

The performances by Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, and Lucy Russell in “Following” are commendable, though not particularly remarkable. This is partly due to the fixed nature of their characters, which restricts significant character development. Clocking in at just over an hour, the film strikes a balance between brevity and substance. Despite the limited resources, Nolan’s genius shines through in his ability to construct a complex yet comprehensible plot, intricate characterizations, and meticulous attention to camera angles and details. The simplicity of production actually enhances Nolan’s creativity, proving that restraint can breed innovation.

The Importance of Objects

Objects play a crucial role in “Following,” as Nolan emphasizes their significance in the storytelling process. These objects act as foundation blocks, marking transitions between different narratives and serving as pivotal points that anticipate twists and unveil realizations. This attention to objects aligns with Nolan’s later works, such as his focus on the spinning top in “Inception.” In “Following,” a misplaced earring and a box of mementos hold immense meaning within the story, enhancing the overall viewing experience.

Exploring Labyrinths and Non-Linear Narratives

Christopher Nolan’s filmography is characterized by its labyrinthine nature. From exploring memory in “Memento” to exploring into dreams in “Inception,” Nolan constantly challenges his viewers with intricate narratives. In “Following,” he presents a different sort of labyrinth — one composed of strangers’ apartments, an urban maze of false appearances and deceit. The non-linear storytelling employed in the film adds to the thrill and sense of awe, inviting viewers to revisit the film and connect the dots. With its intelligent plot and a captivating double twist towards the end, “Following” proves to be a remarkable debut, leaving audiences yearning for more of Nolan’s quieter yet equally effective filmmaking.


“Following” holds a special place in Christopher Nolan’s filmography as his impressive directorial debut. Despite the limitations imposed by a modest budget, the film showcases Nolan’s signature style and thought-provoking storytelling. Its fusion of noir elements with European satire sets it apart, while the exploration of power dynamics and identity transformation adds depth to the narrative. The performances, though not groundbreaking, are solid, and Nolan’s attention to detail compensates for any budgetary constraints. By prominently featuring objects and employing non-linear storytelling, Nolan demonstrates his astute understanding of cinematic techniques. “Following” is a memorable film, and one can hope that Nolan, amidst his blockbuster successes, will revisit this quieter mode of filmmaking in the future.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Is “Following” a typical film noir?

No, “Following” blends elements of film noir with European satirical undertones, making it a unique entry in the genre.

2. How long does “Following” run?

The film has a runtime of just over one hour, striking a balance between brevity and substance.

3. What inspired Christopher Nolan to make “Following”?

Nolan drew inspiration from his experiences living in London’s West End and being a victim of burglars. The film explores his fascination with loneliness in a crowded city.

4. Are there any connections between “Following” and Nolan’s later films?

Yes, Nolan’s use of objects and non-linear storytelling in “Following” foreshadows techniques he would later employ in films like “Inception” and “Memento.”

5. How does “Following” stand out amidst Nolan’s filmography?

“Following” is praised for its distinct storytelling and the director’s ability to deliver a compelling narrative within the constraints of a low budget. Its exploration of power dynamics and identity transformation adds depth to the film.