Saturday, May 11, 2024


Christopher Nolan: Following (GB 1998). Alex Haw as Cobb.

Following / Following.
    GB © 1998 Christopher Nolan. Production company: Next Wave Films. Produced by: Christopher Nolan, Jeremy Theobald, Emma Thomas.
    Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan
Cinematography  Christopher Nolan - 16 mm - b&w - Academy
Music by David Julyan
Edited by Gareth Heal, Christopher Nolan
Jeremy Theobald as The Young Man Bill / Daniel Lloyd
Alex Haw as Cobb
Lucy Russell as The Blonde
John Nolan as The Policeman
Dick Bradsell as The Bald Guy
Gillian El-Kadi as Home Owner
Jennifer Angel as Waitress
Nicolas Carlotti as Barman
Darren Ormandy as Accountant
    Budget $6,000
    Box office $126,052
    70 min
    Distributed by Momentum Pictures
Release dates:
    24 April 1998 (San Francisco)
    5 November 1999 (United Kingdom)
    Finnish premiere: 10 May 2024 - Syncopy logo - released by ELKE - Finnish subtitles (only) by Sami Siitojoki.
    DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi 9, Helsinki, Saturday, 11 May 2024

IMDb synopsis : " A young writer who follows strangers for material meets a thief who takes him under his wing. "

AA: On the occasion of the Finnish premiere of Following and in memory of David Bordwell I read the e-book Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages (2013, second edition 2019 free online) by David Bordwell with Kristin Thompson. Recommended! In his late work Bordwell was at his best.

I admire Christopher Nolan as a representative of the industrial-architectural school of film-making like James Cameron and Stanley Kubrick. It requires rare ability and talent to make global blockbusters with a personal signature and commitment. Never more than now when world cinema is in its biggest crisis and it has never been more difficult to make personal work on the highest budget echelon. In the middle of the pandemic Nolan achieved that twice, with Tenet and Oppenheimer.

These are my first impressions of Following, Christopher Nolan's debut feature film, which I saw for the first time.

Following reminds me of the early low budget work of Anthony Mann, Richard Fleischer and Stanley Kubrick. Circumstances are limited, but spirit is unbounded. There is true drive and a cinematic passion.

Following is already a family affair, with Emma Thomas as a producer partner and uncle John Nolan among the cast (as the policeman in the beginning and the end).

As analyzed by Bordwell & Thompson, Following is already an exercise in the nonlinear narrative like most of Nolan's movies. Timelines are twisted, and only towards the end we begin to make sense of the fabula. Bordwell & Thompson register four timelines of which three are crosscut.

The mystery of the timelines is not a merely formal device. Nolan's movies are time-plays with an experimental and philosophical dimension. Oppenheimer is a movie about quantum physics and the theory of relativity. Time is a key theme and subject in Nolan's films from Following till Oppenheimer.

Shot by Nolan himself on 16 mm stock in black and white Academy, Following is visually stark and original. It turns into a gangster movie of the hard-boiled school, but it begins as a study in urban solitude, in the classic tradition of Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Man of the Crowd" (1840). It is full of intriguing details, often covered in close-ups. The meanings of many details are gradually revealed during the non-linear course of the movie. Other details are just fun to register, like the Batman logo on the door, and the Mark Rothko exhibition poster.

Following is often called a film noir, a term I hesitate to use about films after Touch of Evil (1958). Now thinking about Nolan's oeuvre from Following till Oppenheimer, I find the connection relevant to all his movies, including in his apocalyptic Batman movies. In the conclusion of The Dark Knight Rises a neutron bomb is detonated. For me, film noir is poetry after Auschwitz, a poetic expression of the cosmic dread manifested in the Second World War, including Hiroshima. A sense of metaphysical agony on streets dark with something more than night. I would not call Nolan's movies films noir, but I would not start an argument if someone did.

Among the cast, I am struck by Lucy Russell who gives an unpredictable interpretation as the femme fatale. It was also her debut feature film, the start of an interesting career. Next she starred in Éric Rohmer's L'Anglaise et le duc - as L'Anglaise. Read Lucy Russell's Mini Bio in the IMDb - written by herself.

Within a week, I have seen two movies about burglary, breaking and entering, not (only) to steal, but to secretly inhabit the home of someone else (the previous one was Paradise Is Burning). Steven Zaillian's Ripley TV series (US 2024, starring Andrew Scott) has inspired discussions about the topical interest in faking the identity of the well-off or secretly inhabiting his place like in Parasite. It is a subject also in Following, but it turns out to be a subplot and cover story for crimes more brutal.


Following is a 1998 independent neo-noir crime thriller film written, produced, directed, photographed, and edited by Christopher Nolan in his feature film directorial debut. It tells the story of a young man who follows strangers around the streets of London, and is drawn into a criminal underworld when he fails to keep his distance.

As Nolan's debut feature, it was designed to be as inexpensive as possible to make. Scenes were heavily rehearsed so just one or two takes were needed to economise on 16 mm film stock, the production's greatest expense, and for which Nolan was paying from his salary. Unable to afford expensive professional lighting equipment, Nolan mostly used available light. Along with writing, directing, and photographing the film, Nolan helped in editing and production.

The film was released by The Criterion Collection on both Blu-ray and DVD in North America on 11 December 2012.


A struggling, unemployed young writer (credited as "The Young Man") takes to following strangers around the streets of London, ostensibly to find inspiration for his first novel. Initially, he sets strict rules for himself regarding whom he should follow and for how long, but he soon discards them as he focuses on a well-groomed, handsome man in a dark suit. The man in the suit, having noticed he is being followed, quickly confronts the Young Man and introduces himself as "Cobb". Cobb reveals he is a serial burglar and invites the Young Man (who tells Cobb his name is "Bill") to accompany him on burglaries. The material gains from these crimes seem to be of secondary importance to Cobb. He takes pleasure in rifling through the personal items in his targets' flats and drinking their wine. He explains his true passion is using the shock of robbery, and violation of property, to make his victims re-examine their lives. He sums up his attitude thus: "You take it away, and show them what they had."

The Young Man is thrilled by Cobb's lifestyle. He attempts break-ins of his own, as Cobb encourages and guides him. At Cobb's suggestion, he alters his appearance, cutting his hair short and wearing a dark suit. He assumes the name "Daniel Lloyd", based on the credit card Cobb gives to him, and begins to pursue a relationship with a blonde woman whose flat he and Cobb burgled. The Blonde turns out to be the girlfriend of a small-time gangster (known only as the "Bald Guy"), whom she broke up with after he murdered a man in her flat. Soon, the Blonde confides that the Bald Guy is blackmailing her with incriminating photographs. The Young Man breaks into the Bald Guy's safe, but is caught in the act by an unidentified man. He then bludgeons the man with a claw hammer and flees with the Bald Guy's money and photos. Upon returning to his flat, he finds the photos are innocuous modeling shots.

Confronting the Blonde, the Young Man learns that she and Cobb have been working together, to manipulate him into mimicking Cobb's burglary methods. She tells him that Cobb had recently discovered a murdered woman's body during one of his burglaries, and is attempting to deflect suspicion from himself by making it appear as though multiple burglars share his MO.

The Young Man leaves to turn himself in to the police. The Blonde reports her success to Cobb, who then reveals he actually works for the Bald Guy. The story about the murdered woman was part of a plot to deceive both the Blonde and the Young Man: The Blonde has been blackmailing the Bald Guy with evidence from the murder he committed in her flat, and he wants her murdered in a way that cannot be connected to him. Cobb bludgeons the Blonde to death with the same claw hammer the Young Man used during the burglary of the Bald Guy's safe and leaves it at the scene. The police, checking out the Young Man's story, find the Blonde murdered and the claw hammer with his fingerprints on it. The Young Man is thus implicated for the murder of the Blonde. Cobb, meanwhile, vanishes into a crowd.


Following was written, directed, filmed, and co-produced by Christopher Nolan. It was filmed in London on black-and-white 16 mm film stock. Nolan used a non-linear plot structure for the film, a device he again used in Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige, Dunkirk, and Oppenheimer. This type of storytelling, he says, reflected the audience's inherent uncertainty about characters in film noir:

In a compelling story of this genre we are continually being asked to rethink our assessment of the relationship between the various characters, and I decided to structure my story in such a way as to emphasize the audience's incomplete understanding of each new scene as it is first presented.

Following was written and planned to be as inexpensive to produce as possible, but Nolan has described the production of the film as "extreme", even for a low-budget shoot. With little money, limited equipment, and a cast and crew who were all in full-time employment on weekdays, the production took a full year to complete.

To conserve expensive film stock, every scene in the film was rehearsed extensively to ensure that the first or second take could be used in the final edit. Filming took place on Saturdays for 3-4 months; Nolan shot about fifteen minutes of footage each day. This time frame also moderated the cost of film stock and allowed him to pay for it out of his salary. For the most part, Nolan filmed without professional film lighting equipment, largely employing available light. This was made easier by the decision to use 16 mm black and white film, since that eliminated the need to match light colour. He also used the homes of his friends and family as locations.


Critical response

Following received generally positive reviews. The film has an approval rating of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 35 reviews, with an average rating of 7.10/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Super brief but efficient, Following represents director Christopher Nolan's burgeoning talent in tight filmmaking and hard-edge noir." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 60 out of 100 based on 11 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".

Los Angeles Times reviewer Kevin Thomas was particularly impressed with the film, saying it was a "taut and ingenious neo-noir" and that "as a psychological mystery it plays persuasively if not profoundly. Nolan relishes the sheer nastiness he keeps stirred up, unabated for 70 minutes." The New Yorker wrote that Following echoed Hitchcock classics, but was "leaner and meaner". TV Guide called it "short, sharp and tough as nails", praising its fast-paced storytelling and "tricky, triple-tiered flashback structure." David Thompson of Sight and Sound commented that "Nolan shows a natural talent for a fluent handheld aesthetic."

However, Tony Rayns felt that the film's climax was uninspired, saying that "the generic pay off is a little disappointing after the edgy, character based scenes of exposition". Empire's Trevor Lewis questioned the skill of the film's inexperienced cast, saying that they "lack the dramatic ballast to compensate for [Nolan's] erratic plot elisions." In contrast, David Thompson was of the opinion that the "unfamiliar cast acquit themselves well in a simple naturalistic style." Filmmaker Joel Schumacher thought Following was the work of a "brilliant" young director. "I always had him in the back of my mind, thinking, 'We're going to hear from this guy, big time.' Then I saw Memento and the promise was fulfilled very fast."

Following has since been recognized as one of the most notable no-budget films of its time.


Following won several awards during its festival run, including the Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and the "Best First Feature" prize at the San Francisco International Film Festival, among others. Following also brought fame to Christopher Nolan who was just starting out in the form of the Black and White award as well as a Grand Jury Prize nomination at Slamdance Film Festival.


A Blu-ray and DVD restoration of the film with a new 5.1 sound mix was released by The Criterion Collection for Region A on 11 December 2012. Both the Blu-ray and DVD include a commentary by and an interview with director Christopher Nolan, a chronological edit of the film (also 70 min), a side-by-side comparison between three scenes of the film and the shooting script, Nolan's 1997 short film Doodlebug, and both the theatrical and re-release trailers. Each edition also has a leaflet which includes an essay by film critic Scott Foundas, titled "Nolan Begins". Exclusive to the Blu-ray is an uncompressed monaural soundtrack to the film.

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