Why the First Christopher Nolan Movie is One You Should Watch


Christopher Nolan has now become possibly one of the most recognizable directors of our time, with incredible blockbusters like Insomnia, The Dark Night Trilogy, Inception, and Dunkirk – all of which has led to his films gaining 11 Academy Awards and 36 nominations. Nolan doesn’t take a break and is even excited about his new release that is set in WWII, about the creation of the atom bomb.

Needless to say, fans of his work are going wild about Oppenheimer and the prospect of another great Nolan movie being released. Although we must not forget that, despite his successful career and his additions to the pantheon of great cinema, it was his feature debut 1998, Following, that kick-started his path to success. While it may have only been the beginning, it is a movie that no one should miss out on.


Playing With Time

Following is a mildly experimental neo-noir ’90s movie, which Nolan wrote, produced, edited, directed, and even filmed all himself. The story concerns a young writer in London who follows people to gain inspiration for his novels, although his hobby quickly becomes an obsession that he soon finds has gone further than intended when he fails to keep his distance. So, what makes this 1998 film so captivating and one everyone should see?

Nolan’s objective for the film, which was made on an extremely limited budget, was to explore the aspect of film noir that he enjoys the most: male characters who are defined by the usually cruel behaviors they exhibit. His proposal was risky because of the limited budget; he wanted to film no more than two takes per scene, entirely with natural light, and in affordable locations. He also wanted to work the shoot around the other jobs that his cast and crew had, as well as his own.

Related: Why Christopher Nolan Is One of the Best Working Directors Today

Using his often trademark style of non-linear narrative, Following was designed to illustrate both the limitless potential of playing with one’s sense of time and perception and the limitations of its production. The story is scattered with some flashbacks, some out-of-sequence scenes, and brief cuts that leave the audience questioning why these events happened the way they did. The flashbacks and flash-forwards play with your perspective and sense of time; answers become questions again, and yet it is undeniable that this keeps the audience on their toes and ensures that their eyes are glued to the screen. When all the pieces are put back together at the end of the movie, the viewers are able to finally appreciate the great effort that went into creating the movie as well as the aesthetic value of the film.

The Gloomy Neo-Noir

Neo-noir movies have become significantly more visible in modern cinema and could even be the genre of the decade, so when Nolan’s Following was shot in a noir style, it of course had to add to the growing list of brilliant noir movies. Following has many sharp contrasts and dark gloomy corners, which create an intense atmosphere as the camera lurks around and peers into secret boxes alongside its characters. Really, it fits the mood that is intended for a noir movie perfectly.

Related: Film Noir: The Best Neo-Noir Movies of the ’70s

Not to mention that it follows a gritty, mind-bending string of events that (of course) Nolan withholds information on, in order to develop tension throughout the film and throw you another curveball. All of this forces you to re-evaluate your assumptions and relationship to the point of view usually taken in films, which are extremely typical characteristics of a noir. In fact, in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, Nolan expressed his view on noir films:

“For me, film noir is one of the only genres where the concept of point of view is accepted as a fairly important notion in the storytelling, and where it’s totally accepted that you can flashback and flashforward and change points of view. The best film noir always involves a continuous reassessment of things, especially in terms of ‘Who’s the good guy?’ and ‘Who’s the bad guy?’ You want the double cross, you want the surprise, and you want to keep the audience mindful of the fact that they don’t know the full story, and that they can’t trust all the characters.”

Following Influenced the Nolan Movies Which Followed

Fans will realize that Following, while a great movie individually, was essentially a blueprint for Nolan’s entire career; it was, after all, only an hour and ten minutes long, significantly shorter than the massive Nolan epics we are used to. It was only the beginning of his work, as his subsequent movies retained certain noir characteristics (thus helping reinvigorate Batman and the superhero movie), and toyed with point of view and perspective.

Following was the movie that began his fascination with non-linear storytelling, which has now become a major recognizable factor in his filmography. This approach has assisted Nolan in giving a fresh look into (or even re-inventing) noir, but we can’t forget where it all started. So, Following is not just Nolan’s feature debut, but a noir masterpiece, and maybe one of the best movies of the ’90s; it’s intense, gloomy, captivating and, frankly, mysterious and mind-boggling. So it feels wrong to be so engaged in his other work, without appreciating that Following influenced and inspired his incredible directorial skills. It should be required viewing for any big Nolan fan.

Emily Blunt to Star Alongside Cillian Murphy in Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer

Emily Blunt to Star Alongside Cillian Murphy in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer

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