FOLLOWING. Christopher Nolan’s feature film debut

One thing must be said about Nolan: he knows how to play with the audience phenomenally, creating fascinating, tragic characters.


5 September 2023

Petter, the narrator of Jostein Gaarder’s “The Director’s Daughter,” has loved observing people since he was a child. He enjoys watching how intensely they live, how they revolve in their own worlds, how they interact and play with each other, whether consciously or unconsciously. They amuse themselves, taking pleasure in their imagined power, proud of their creativity, always sure they have their finger on the pulse. Lonely fools. People like Bill, the protagonist of Following.

Delving into the human psyche, Bill follows people without realizing that he, too, is being followed, that he has trapped himself in a deadly snare. He’s heading toward the waiting guillotine. He picks a face from the crowd, just as we choose someone when standing too long on a bus or getting bored during a Sunday sermon. Someone to focus on, like an old lady in a beret or a child playing under the altar. But Bill doesn’t stop at just observing their appearance, their bag, or their hairstyle. He begins an investigation. Innocently enough – just crossing to the other side of the street or escorting someone to their door – with the resolution never to follow them again. One of the rules is: never follow the same person twice. And that’s the first rule Bill breaks. And so, he meets Cobb.

Cobb also follows people, but unlike Bill, he’s a professional. Bill fills his time with aimless wandering, much like an unemployed twenty-something who aspires to be a writer (but can’t even afford an electronic typewriter), but can only afford to wander aimlessly through the streets. Cobb isn’t interested in wandering through London neighborhoods. Cobb is a burglar. He breaks into homes, examines women’s lingerie, postcards from friends, books, newspapers. He drinks wine bought by strangers. For him, being a thief is a sort of philosophy: taking items from homes reduces to a mere completion of the act of breaking in. The most important part is delving into the reality of the one being robbed. Discovering their addictions, habits, interests. Strolling through their homes. A bit like rifling through the drawers of someone’s mind, someone you’ve only seen once or twice at best. A face frozen in a dusty photograph. Cobb is interested in people. He’s also interested in Bill. Bill – naive, trusting appearances, perpetually bored, lonely. A kid who’s easy to manipulate.

Analyzing Christopher Nolan’s first three feature films, it’s impossible not to notice that manipulation and delving into the human psyche are not foreign to the director in Following, Memento, and Insomnia. Each of his protagonists – Bill, Leonard Shelby, and Will Dormer – is driven to action by their own obsessions and by people who skillfully exploit those obsessions. Bill is lonely, looking for something to do, and easily falls for the bait set by Cobb. In a sense, he becomes Cobb’s student or at least believes himself to be. However, he acts without hesitation, never stopping to consider whether he might be a puppet in the hands of a calculating, cynical burglar. Just as Leonard Shelby trusts the notes on the back of polaroid photographs, and William Dormer trusts his police experience, Bill trusts Cobb, only discovering too late that he has become Cobb’s plaything. Cobb, who knows his fears, passions, and dreams. Cobb knows when to say what. He knows when to attack. He knows when to use the right comment. Bill eagerly fulfills his wishes – changing his appearance, cutting his hair, buying a suit, and even a new doormat. He carefully absorbs the words of his “master” but pays no attention to what lies between them. He’s like Leonard, stubbornly insisting that his system is flawless (even though all signs point to the contrary), or Dormer, muttering, “I’ll catch that son of a bitch!” But what can you expect from a man leading such a dry, emotionless, and monotonous life? “A sad loser with no social life,” Cobb says while breaking into Bill’s apartment. He would say it even if that “loser” weren’t standing right in front of him, in his worn leather jacket, with greasy feathers, looking like a frightened chicken.

David Julyan’s music, whose compositions will continue to send shivers down the audience’s spine in Nolan’s subsequent films, remains in the background but serves as the perfect complement to the somber and dark atmosphere. Nolan has never hidden his fascination with film noir. The entire story, with its disrupted chronology, is like Memento – a puzzle missing pieces until the end. A game from the first to the last minute, a game immersed in the hypnotic atmosphere of illusions, cruel manipulation, and playing with another human being. Nolan delves into a web of lies and deception, observing Cobb directing the steps of the blonde woman, Bill, the blonde woman playing with Bill, and Bill himself, who either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know. At the top of this pyramid is Nolan himself – but an examination of his habits, passions, and journey from an excellent amateur psychological thriller to a standard Hollywood thriller sprinkled with stars is a topic for a longer article. However, one thing must be said about Nolan: he knows how to play with the audience phenomenally, creating fascinating, tragic characters – both those who manipulate and those who are manipulated. And we enjoy watching such characters. Watching how intensely they live. How they revolve in their own worlds.



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