The more Christopher Nolan befuddles his followers, the greater their admiration. If you have entirely understood any of Nolan’s recent films, especially Tenet (2020), then the director is clearly not doing something right.
Nolan’s breakthrough was Memento (2002), in which a widower suffering from short-term memory loss uses tattoos and Polaroid photographs to hunt down his wife’s murderers. AR Murgadoss stole Nolan’s ideas for his 2005 Tamil film Ghajini, remade with the same name in Hindi three years later.
There was no looking back for Nolan after Memento: he went on to make such blockbusters as Inception, the rebooted Batman trilogy, and Interstellar. Several of these films are characterised by existential themes, spectacularly staged action sequences and the visual panache that has been made possible by Nolan’s influence in Hollywood.
Nolan’s most accessible film is arguably his feature debut, Following (1998). Set in London, where Nolan was born, the black-and-white movie contains the seeds of Nolan’s preoccupations over the rest of his career. Following is being streamed on AMC, which is available in India through Amazon Prime Video.
Apart from directing Following, Nolan served as writer, editor, cinematographer and producer. His control over the entire creative process was already evident in his first feature, in which the process of piecing together a cinematic narrative is synonymous with the act of forging a new identity.
An unemployed man (Jeremy Theobald), identified only as “The Young Man”, is following strangers around London as part of a literary experiment. He is spotted by a man who calls himself Cobb (Alex Haw). The Young Man joins Cobb on a nihilistic spree of burglaries. The Young Man soon assumes Cobb’s mode of dress and manner. A relationship with a woman known as “The Blonde” (Lucy Russell) exposes the perils of a borrowed life lived on someone else’s terms.
The grainy footage (shot on 16mm film), the indie vibe, and the plot’s simplicity might be alien to fans of Nolan’s later work. But the non-linearity will be familiar, as will be the twist that takes The Young Man’s adventures into unchartered territory.
Nolan’s upcoming films include a biopic of J Robert Oppenheimer, the American theoretical physicist who was among the inventors of the havoc-causing atomic bomb. Oppenheimer reunites Nolan with his Batman actor Cillian Murphy. The film’s cast boasts of such Hollywood heavy-hitters as Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett and Rami Malek. Following¸ which has three principal actors, is a throwback to a time when Nolan could think small and still make an impact.