Having watched this year’s 3-hour-long Oppenheimer a few weeks ago, I decided it’d be neat to go back to the very beginning, to Christopher Nolan’s first feature, 1998’s independent Following, the tale of an unemployed, would-be writer who gets caught up in the schemes of a charismatic criminal. At a miniscule 70 minute runtime, one might be tempted to think that the two are wildly different. On the surface, yes, they are, but even in Nolan’s debut his cinematic brand is evident.
Jim Emerson’s point that Nolan arrives here nearly fully formed as an artist isn’t far off the mark. All the tricks (sans the lavish budgets and big-name casts) of his trade are present: the fragmented, dove-tailing plot(s); un-telegraphed cuts (the film was shot by Nolan, and edited well by him alongside Gareth Heal); his affinity for doubles; an icy femme fatale; and the presence of a conniving mastermind who manipulates the events unfolding onscreen unbeknownst to either the characters or the audience. (Sometimes this mastermind is the protagonist, sometimes the antagonist, sometimes Nolan himself.) Nolan is one of those puzzle-box directors, less keen on profound themes and deep character portraits than he is on malleable chronology and upending audience expectations through deft narrative turns. When he does try to tackle big themes, such as with love in Interstellar, he fumbles, although the end result is almost always still entertaining. […]