“One of the big problems of the movie for me was always that I thought, how can we make the repetition idea become something spectacular and exciting, and not make it feel like ‘oh my God, it’s starting again, how boring.’ So this was really a big task for me, not losing the concentration of the audience and really having them care for what happens again and again. So we tried to really make it very exciting and very strange and different…”–Tom Tykwer, Run Lola Run DVD commentary
DIRECTED BY: Tom Tykwer
FEATURING: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, Herbert Knaup, Nina Petri
PLOT: Lola’s boyfriend calls her on the phone: he needs 100,000 Deutschmarks in twenty minutes to pay off a gangster, or he’s going to be killed. Lola has no money and no transportation, but she formulates a plan in a split second, and takes off running. She arrives too late and the story ends in tragedy; but fortunately, she gets a do-over.
- Lola‘s narrative structure is almost identical to Krzysztof Kieślowski’s 1981 film Blind Chance.
- The film’s first epigram is a famous quote from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding.” The second quotation, “Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel” (“after the game is before the game”) is from World Cup champion coach Sepp Herberger.
- This fast-paced film contains 1581 cuts, averaging out to 2.7 seconds per shot.
- Lola rennt swept the major categories at the 1999 German Film Awards, with the notable exception of Best Actress—Franka Potente was not even nominated. It won around twenty other awards from international critics associations, but was not nominated for an Academy Award.
- Voted #86 on Empire’s List of the 100 Best Films Of World Cinema.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Lola, running. Writer/director Tom Tykwer himself has said that the genesis of the film came from an image that sprang to his mind of a woman running through the streets; he constructed a scenario around the picture in his mind’s eye to explain where this vision was racing to. Since we’re interested in weirdness, we’ll focus on one specific iteration of the recurring image of Lola running: when she dashes out of her parents’ home, the camera circles around her mother’s room to catch a television set, where a cartoon version of Lola is flying down the spiral staircase.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Run Lola Run has the hip surreality of a music video. Stylized within a heartbeat of its life, Lola is as proudly and defiantly artificial as Franka Potente’s Strawberry-Shortcake-with-her-head-on-fire dye job.
Original trailer for Run Lola Run
COMMENTS: “Foreign movies come off really weird,” headlines one Amazon reviewer, who confesses that he got annoyed watching the opening and turned the film off. Run Lola Run doesn’t sneak its weirdness on the viewer: it puts indicia of unreality right up front. Scored to an propulsive electronica beat, the film’s first shot is of a swinging pendulum; the camera tilts up to reveal it is hanging off a demonic clock. The clock’s simian mouth opens on a hinge and the viewer travels through it, finding himself in a field where a crowd is milling about aimlessly. A narrator asks generic philosophical questions (“why do we believe anything at all?”) until the roving camera alights on a uniformed man who explains the answer to everything: “the ball is round, the game lasts 90 minutes, that’s a fact. Everything else is pure theory.” He kicks a soccer ball skyward, and the camera pulls back to show the crowd huddling in groups to form the words “LOLA RENNT.” When the ball descends it falls into a hole that turns into a tunnel with an animated woman running through it. She dodges various pendulums and clocks and smashes the names of the technical crew’s credits as they appear, like titles drawn by a punk Saul Bass, until she is finally sucked into a vortex. The cast then appears in mugshot credits (complete with multiple angles and clicking shutter sound effect) before we’re dropped into a bird’s-eye view of Berlin, and plunge into a tracking shot that zooms through a house window to focus on a ringing phone. The pounding electronic rhythm never lets up throughout the whole process.
The stylization of Run Lola Run is as dense as the premise is simple. Lola must find a way to raise 100,000 Deutschmarks and deliver them to dimwitted boyfriend Manni in twenty minutes, or he’s going to rob a grocery store to try to get the money he owes a brutal gangster. A simple, if impossible, task for Lola, but director Tom Tykwer embellishes her quest with every cinematic decoration he can imagine. Different film stocks and filters are used to represent different layers of reality: 35mm film for the scenes with Lola and Manni in Berlin, black and white for flashbacks, videotape for subplots, and a warm red filter for the lovers’ interstitial post-coital reveries. Running her race through the city, Lola will bump into a passerby and we will see their future flash by in a flipbook of Polaroid stills: a woman may lose custody of her child, win the lottery, or convert to a cult in a matter of seconds. When Lola tries to think who she can get a huge sum of money from on short notice, the camera spins around her as she flips through her mental Rolodex of every acquaintance she knows before finally settling on Papa (in a humorous touch, his avatar shakes his head discouragingly after Lola has raced out of the room). Like Oskar in The Tin Drum, Lola’s angry scream can shatter glass. Animated images sometimes pop into the frame, and when Lola rushes out of her apartment, the cartoon version of herself is seen running along on the television. There are wipes and split screens and zoom shots that cover miles in an instant. And always, shots of Lola running, running, seen from behind, from the side, head on, legs and arms pumping, slow motion, fast motion, 360 degree pans, tripping down a flight of stairs or sliding across a car hood and getting back up, running more…
The pace rarely lets up, nor does the soundtrack. But the movie does take a few breathers to let us get to know the characters; most importantly, in the scenes of Lola and Manni snuggling in bed together. These moments of intimacy are crucial. Although we know Lola’s passion for her beau from observing the lengths she is willing to go to save him, these moments when we enter into the lovers’ private lives makes us invested in their happiness. Although the red haze hanging over them suggests a fantasy sequence, the naturalism of the dialogue and the absence of the pulsing soundtrack implies instead that this is reality, the rest is fantasy. Sequestered away from the distractions and troubles of the outside world, these moments are what the couple live for. Although we don’t know exactly how or why Manni got mixed up with diamond smugglers, in bed we see him as Lola does: as an essentially decent guy in need of feminine support and guidance. There is a Bonnie and Clyde romanticism here, an us-against-the-world quality, and the purity of these moments serves to justify the kids’ hooliganism. This is the heart of their lives, and the heart of the movie; this is the paradise the lovers will lose if Lola can’t pull off the impossible in twenty minutes.
The stakes are so high that Lola can’t allow defeat to stop her. So, when her story ends in tragedy, she starts it again, and again. When she’s knocked down, she gets back up and resumes her run. But it soon appears that the game is rigged, the deck is stacked against her and Manni. To win, they are going to have to break the rules; or, at least, start playing by different rules than they are used to. In the casino scene in the final segment, Lola benefits from a cashier who is willing to bend the rules for her. She then breaks the rules of probability, using her preternatural scream to shatter fate. That is an interesting departure, but what I find even more peculiar and noteworthy is that Lola and Manni do not succeed in their quest until they break their own instinctual habits by doing something irrational and unnatural which seemingly goes against their self-interest. For Manni, it’s trading away his gun, which he does in a mad leap of faith that the stranger will not turn it against him. For Lola, it’s when she commits to pausing in her run to comfort a dying man, despite the fact that any delay could endanger Manni. When these characters do something for someone else who has it worse than themselves, they are rewarded with success in their hopeless quest. The movie, which so far has played like an amoral punk anthem, sneaks in a surprisingly conventional morality of altruism through a backdoor at the end. It works.
“The ball is round, the game lasts 90 minutes, that’s a fact. Everything else is pure theory.” Run Lola Run, which often looks explicitly like a first person shooter, is clearly set up as a game. It’s an artificial construct with no pretense to depict reality faithfully. It lasts ten minutes shy of the 90 minute limit for a soccer match. But, as the quotes from German national coach Sepp Herberger imply, just because something is a game does not render it insignificant. The game is crucial, the game is definitive, and the game is its own reality. Run Lola Run is a game played according to its own rules. Lola running is pure cinema. Everything outside that is just theory.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
IMDB LINK: Run Lola Run (1998)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Run Lola Run / Filmography / Tom Tykwer – The Run Lola Run page at Tom Tykwer’s official site has a wealth of resources including essays, press clippings, a Tykwer interview, and songs from the soundtrack
Run Lola Run: Casino Scene – Critical Commons – The complete casino scene with three different reader-submitted commentaries
Run Lola Run: Reflections – Barrie Wilson, a religion studies professor, suggests four different approaches to interpreting the film: as an essay on timing, as a dream, as game theory, and a “Gnostic” interpretation
Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run and the Usual Suspects: The Avant-Garde, Popular Culture and History – Essay on Lola Rennt‘s role in the German conception of pop culture, Barbara Kosta’s chapter in the book German Pop Culture: How American Is It?
Run Lola Run (1998) – Art of the Title – The movie’s opening title sequence, with analysis, from Art of the Title
DVD INFO: The Sony Classic Pictures DVD (buy) comes double sided: on one side is the widescreen version of the movie, while flipping the disc gives you the obsolete “formatted for your TV” 4:3 “full frame” version of the film. Be careful which side you put up. The disc comes with trailers for Lola and other movies, a music video for the theme song, and a commentary by director Tykwer and star Franka Potente (who introduces herself as “the red-haired running person you see in the movie”).
A 2008 Blu-ray release (buy) retains all these bonuses and throws in an exclusive new retrospective featurette, “Still Running.”
(This movie was nominated for review by reader “gnosoz.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)