review by Elias Savada, 4 June 2001

Discovering 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 forgotten.

As 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 "what-the-heck?" curiosity

Turning 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.

As 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.

Sure 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 to see if Following will be playing mind games near you.

Written and
Directed by:

Christopher Nolan

Jeremy Theobald
Alex Haw
Lucy Russell
John Nolan
Dick Bradsell

R - Not Rated
This film has not 
yet been rated.




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