She has 20 minutes to save her boyfriend from the wrath of an irate gang leader. She’s always been there to rescue her partner, but not this time. In fact, she was the one who could have prevented the trouble in the first place—if only her bike had not been stolen. She shakes her blazing red mane. She is determined to save her love, and will run as fast as her pair of black Doc Martens will allow. She will ultimately shatter even her own personal reality with her undying determination.
Run Lola Run appeared in 1998 in Germany, and the independent film raced to America the following year. Americans saw the release of The Bourne Identity in 2002, in which Franka Potente played Marie, a major role. The Bourne Supremacy, the second installment of the “Bourne trilogy,” hit theaters this past summer, and we witnessed more of Franka Potente’s character. In Run Lola Run, we have the opportunity to experience some of Potente’s earlier acting, as well as hear her speak in her native German tongue. Run Lola Run not only brought Potente to fame, but also combined avant-garde film style with sharp acting and direction. Run Lola Run is both a thrilling surge of adrenaline and a refreshing dip into the cinematic pool of innovation.
Tom Tykwer wrote and directed Run Lola Run, as well as composed much of the music for the film. He had previously written, directed, and composed for his previous four movies, but none of them reached the consummate success that Run Lola Run achieved. Tykwer aspired to produce the “sheer, unadorned pleasure of speed” in a movie, as he explains in the DVD sleeve. Everything about the pace of the movie is supercharged, down to the last strand of Lola’s (Potente) fiery red hair.
The film is comprised of three versions of the same story. The events in each episode differ only slightly, but the minor differences evoke vastly different consequences and endings. Tykwer ventures into relatively unfamiliar territory in film genre. Sliding Doors and The Butterfly Effect are among the few films that are comparable in plot and theme regarding fate and how the seemingly minor decisions we make daily affect our lives more than we can ever imagine.
We first meet Lola as she is speaking to her troubled boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), on the phone. In these first few scenes, Tykwer bombards us with information and flashbacks, and we learn the background story that will drive the rest of the film. Lola takes off running, which she continues to do throughout the film. She crosses the paths of several minor characters, each having their unique effect on Lola’s life. By the time she finds Manni, the 20 minutes that she promised him have already passed. Any one of the occurrences that kept Lola from arriving sooner could have also prevented the tragedy that ensues. But Lola refuses to accept this ending. We are taken back to the beginning as the same 20 minutes elapse, and Lola changes the course of events. The audience learns of the retribution that is dealt to each of the characters across each alternate reality, how each has affected the central plotline, and what one woman’s limitless passion can accomplish when her love is threatened.
As Lola spends much of her time running throughout the movie, a combination of engaging music and images ensure that we feel Lola’s pain as if we are running beside her. A minute or two may pass without a single instance of dialogue. Tykver provides an electrically charged soundtrack throughout the movie, ensuring that the audience’s eyes and interest are constantly illuminated. Potente contributes her vocals to the song “I Wish,” and Lola suddenly develops a new dimension to her character as we enter the turbulent inner workings of her mind. She does not sing so much as hauntingly recite the lyrics in a rhythmic fashion that effectively contributes to the adrenaline-inducing sprint. Also noteworthy is the use of “What a Difference a Day Can Make” sung by Maria Grever during Lola and Manni’s run from the supermarket in the first sequence. The light melody contrasts sharply with the ominous nature of the scene.
Cinematographer Frank Griebe worked closely with film editor Mathilde Bonnefoy to create the stunning visual effects throughout the movie. Griebe had shot the scenes for many of Tykver’s previous movies as well. We truly experience what Lola sees as Griebe changes his format depending on Lola’s presence in the scene. While the majority of the film is filmed in regular 35mm format, the scenes that do not involve Lola appear grainy and less steady because they are shot with a regular video camera. As a result, we feel even more detached from the action on the screen. We see examples of this in the scenes with Lola’s father and his female co-worker, as well as the one with the man on the bike interacting with the homeless bum.
As the film opens, Griebe employs a wide variety of angles and shots to depict Lola and Manni’s conversation. The flashbacks themselves are in black and white and the action is accelerated. The camera may shoot from overhead, revolve around the character speaking, or zoom in at a breakneck speed depending on the specific moment in their exchange. A couple of specific moments are repeated with minor variations for emphasis, such as when Lola tries to think of who to ask for money and repeats the word “wer,” which translates into the English “who.” We are exposed to a sequence of images of faces that represent the people in Lola’s life, and they are all interestingly the faces of the crew that worked on the film. After Lola’s crosses paths with each of the minor characters in the film, we see how their lives pan out in the not-too-distant future via a series of photographs that are strung together and accompanied by the sounds of a camera. Their resolutions are intriguingly dependent on the nature of their interactions with Lola.
As the movie switches between the different 20-minute realities of Lola’s life, Tykver provides us with two short scenes involving Lola and Manni at two respective breaks in the story. Lola and Manni lie together, lit only in red, and they discuss each other’s love. Each conversation relates eerily to the preceding episode. We feel for the characters, and see deeper into their souls. The scenes seem to be placed so perfectly that they do not interrupt the flow of the movie as we absorb what has just happened in the previous scenes.
Tykwer truly creates a cinematic gem in Run Lola Run. Lola’s grasp on her own reality is extraordinary as she is able to manipulate the events of her life and carry over knowledge from the alternate 20 minute sequences. Although elements of the movie may seem unrealistic, we are entertained and touched. Lola and Manni shouldn’t be able to talk through panes of glass, yet we marvel at their interpersonal connection that allows them to do so. Lola’s sonic scream shatters glass. Her character is empowering and her story amazing, and we support her every step along the way. We are ultimately satisfied with the ending, curious as to what happens to Lola and Manni in the 20 minutes after the movie ends, and possibly apprehensive about the events of the next 20 minutes of our own lives.