review by Elias Savada, 4 June 2001
Christopher Nolan's first, short feature is the perfect opportunity
to take a backward glance at how such an exciting filmmaker can
succeed in making such disturbingly fresh use of the medium. In
hindsight, it's very easy to see how this black-and-white low-budget
puzzler is an instructional exercise for his second, more ambitious
work, the much acclaimed and most successful independent film of the
year. That would be Memento
for those of you with short-term memories. Oh, I see you may have
such, Nolan's 1999 debut feature Following
(capsule reviewed by Nitrate regular Eddie Cockrell from that year's
Seattle International Film Festival) becomes Memento-on-training-wheels.
When friends ask me if they should see Nolan's newer film (Following only recently available to most of us -- in Washington
it's here for a fleeting week at DC Visions.), I beg them to open
their brain for a major temporal displacement. If you can store a
lot of gray-matter data in your neural hard drive, then you'll find
BOTH of Nolan's films appealing. Many have called Memento
a backwards film, perhaps a fitting category, but still not terribly
clear for the uninformed and the picky viewer. Mull over this
variation instead. Consider little snippets of plot delivery
sequences that make up the film as the forward movement of a second
hand of a clock. Except that when the second hand gets to the top,
the minute hand snaps backward.
The action continues ahead -- but from an earlier time frame -- for
another screen minute, while every "sixty seconds" the big
hand continues in reverse. You're caught in a chronological
tug-of-war. As you started out from the end of your "hour"
you are forced to remember something that actually hasn't happened
yet. This time-twisting hypothesis is what has made Memento
such a hit. That and the near-necessity to watch the film again
(much like The Sixth Sense fanatic's repeat audiences) out of enervating
the clock back to examine Following,
there was an eerie feeling of déjà
vu when you watch this art-house failure when initially released
two years ago. Memento had
a similar struggle finding a distributor, eventually getting
self-released to a current box office gross of $15 million (and
growing). A pittance compared to Pearl Harbor, but wildly successful based on a $5 million budget.
for story, there's the same back-stepping tale-spinning, this time
involving a struggling writer in London. Bill (played by co-producer
Jeremy Theobald) struggles for a literary edge, seeking character
inspiration by randomly selecting individuals to follow. We first
find him telling his woeful account of his fixation disorder to an
unidentified gentleman; seventy minutes later we learn his
questioner is a policeman (John Nolan), concerned about some nasty
neighborhood occurrences. The twists begin when one observee, Cobb
(Alex Haw), a thief with his own curious "British psycho"
agenda, catches his observer in the act and makes him a game piece
in a diversion involving a blonde woman (Lucy Russell) and her
unscrupulous bar owner boy friend (Dick Bradsell). It's not quite
starting at the end, Memento
style, but it's obviously from the same captivating anal-retentive
mind of Christopher Nolan. The events unfold as an overlay of time
slip-sliding to and fro, careening closer to the central surprise
ending, (from left and right speakers, figuratively). It's like
watching the subject from two sides (notice how wounds vanish and
reappear), superimposing the plot from several points-of-view.
During a press screening someone jumped out of their seat and ran
out of the theater; I can only assume he mistakenly thought the
reels were out of sequence.
it's unpolished, but it's the same intoxicating brew I've now
welcoming from Mr. Nolan with each new project. He guides his cast,
most with little or no film experience, with deliberate inspiration.
Shot in 16mm with hand-held equipment, there is a certain noirish
feel to the undertaking. He breaks the rules we are accustomed to
for a crime drama (equal parts Usual Suspects, Spanish
Prisoner, and a handful of other doppelgangers) forcing us to
sit down before a daring jig-saw puzzle built upon jagged pieces of
time and false pretenses. Anxious to catch the start of a risen
star? Check out www.zeitgeistfilm.com
to see if Following will
be playing mind games near you.
NR - Not Rated
This film has not
yet been rated.