Chris Nolan released his first feature film back in 1998 with Following. Since that time (a mere 14 years for those who cannot count) he has become one of contemporary cinema’s most successful and adored blockbuster filmmakers. Not since the days of Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg has a director gained such a prominent reputation in such a small window of time.
Nolan has simply gone from strength to strength, every film he releases being more complex and more ambitious than the last and if he continues on this path, tomorrow’s generation will laud him as a modern equivalent of Hitchcock for his mainstream signature style – and what a title to have.
This month sees the release of his 8th, and most anticipated film yet, The Dark Knight Rises. So in celebration of all things Chris Nolan, I’d like to take a look back at his films and analyze the immense power of his work. What makes the boy from London so damn amazing!?
We start with Following and then each day in the build up to the release of The Dark Knight Rises we will take a closer look at the next film in his filmography…
1. Following (1998)
Other than the colorful language (which has dissipated over Nolan’s filmography as he has moved into blockbuster filmmaking) and the brutal murder of a Harry Potter look-a-like, Following sets out many themes and plot structures which would continue to run through all of the director’s work so far. We will come to the themes later on, as they find better footing in Memento. But as for the plot structures, Following is pretty much the schematic for all future Nolan projects.
The most obvious thing about Following’s structure is the non-linear story. Starting at the end, then moving to the beginning via flashbacks to the middle and the unveiling of everything in-between. In a pre-Memento period, this is Nolan demonstrating a strong understanding of how editing can vastly improve a story. Another aspect of the film is its overt film noir lighting and style; something that Nolan would go on to constantly allude to, and eventually reinvent.
In terms of camera work and visual technique, Following is very limited in demonstrating the talent of its maker, but this is more to the fault of budget restraints and the fact that Nolan was still finding himself. This is very clearly a film made by its unique spin on the anti-hero (later seen in Inception), its play on the notion of right and wrong (Insomnia and Batman series) and of course the way in which Nolan withholds information in order to develop tension (The Prestige and Memento). Although the characters are not developed as fully as we would come to expect from the director, it is still a promising start to his career.
Stand Out Moment
After our protagonist first meets Cobb (clearly a character who later inspires Nolan’s anarchic vision of The Joker, and shares a name and similar profession with the main character of Inception), they both go out and break into an apartment. Whilst inside, Cobb begins to explain why he does what he does. Giving tidbits of information about the ‘understanding’ one can gain about people from snooping around their belongings. In a chilling and unsettling turn of events, Cobb almost salivates after finding a trinket box of personal items. Raking through the pictures and memories, he details how one should be privileged to see such private things; then tipping them on the floor as a haunting statement to the owners. The scene culminates with the two men suddenly coming face to face with the owner, who they calmly address and leave.
Its moments like these in many directors’ early works, which denote another level of thought and originality. Nolan provides an alternative approach to the story of thieves, and instead of making it engaging or alluring, he makes it more disturbing than anyone can imagine. By making us complicit in the act, we get an inside scoop of how some burglar’s minds work. However, he still frames it from the perspective of an outsider, so we not only feel the horror of empathizing with the victims, but we also have to passively watch this dastardly act take place.
In terms of establishing character, this is a great scene for both Cobb and the film’s protagonist, as it shows their true colours. One is a heartless sociopath who relishes in people’s sadness (rationalizing it as a form of rejuvenation for them), and the other is an ambling loner willing to be led down dangerous roads.
Nolan on Following:
“The script was written along the lines of what I see as the most interesting aspect of film noir and crime fiction; not baroque lighting setups and sinister villains, but simply that character is ultimately defined by action. 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 made on a part-time basis, one day a week for a year.
Check back tomorrow when we delve into Nolan’s ambitious “backwards movie” MEMENTO!
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