Millennial Malaise 50: Run Lola Run

In Which There’s Only 20 Minutes Left

A strong through-line with this series is how frequently the look and feel of a film help preserves it for future inspection. That the decisions of the time create a cultural amber for future filmic paleontologists to unearth and revive. It’s a process that’s a cousin to the “they don’t make ’em like they used to,’ sentiment. The signifiers of a particular era confer interest by merely being different from what we experience nowadays.

This has helped many a lower class film (Hackers, Virtousity, The Lawnmower Man, The Net) live a second life. A mine for those infatuated with the aesthetics of the 90’s to pluck from and recontextualize and reformat in our remix culture. But rarely does a film live and breathe by these merits alone. There is usually something that comes and bogs everything down. Leaden plots, dull characters, and a feeling by the filmmakers to fulfill certain expectations to the detriment of the overall experience.

Enter Run Lola Run, a movie that lives on the pure energy of stylistic innovation and little more. But where many films of its ilk got lost in the weeds of trying to fully be a normal story, director Tom Tykwer zags, and presents a hooky idea as quickly as possible. It’s pure, undiluted flash bottled up in a ludicrously high premise and all balanced on the edge of absurdity. It’s a movie that ignores the structural ideas of storytelling to be entirely its own thing: a throbbing music video like tribute to the possibility of what a camera can shoot and a person can cut in the edit.

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To whit Run Lola Run follows the titular character (Franka Potente) as she needs to accrue 100,000 marks in 20 minutes to save her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) from some criminal types. And if your wondering how that premise can sustain a full 80 minutes, have no fear. For the film takes on a Groundhog Day like structure where each time Lola fails she restarts from the beginning, sprinting from the hung up phone at the start of each cycle to the bag of cash that ends each segment.

Tykwer uses this framework to create a kind of multi-media collage  in the form of  a feature film. Almost every second is scored to thrumming house music (which was also partially written by Tykwer), and most moments are shot from crazy angles, overflowing with split-screens, sequences cut to ribbons, animation, and peppered in flash Polaroid photography. Even with its dizzying time hopping premise, Lola still stands as a stylist’s dream. Images and sounds cut loose from the worry of Hollywood storytelling and deep into the montage world of 90’s aesthetics.

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One could argue that these formal pyrotechnics are all really the films has to offer, and it’s a statement hard to argue against. The actors do there best to imbue their characters with enough humanity to make a believable twenty minutes, but everyone feels more like a type than a person. Which isn’t truly a complaint, this a film to be wowed by, and having too much character intricacies would bog down the breathless pace. The viewer is given the skeleton, and the life that animates it is the thrilling sprint that Lola takes from beginning to end.

There are a few jabs at the idea of fate and consequence. How even the slightest deviation can radically alter one’s life. The only difference between each segment is how quickly Lola can leave from her apartment, and those few seconds of separation create an ever spiraling web of decisions that ripple through till the moment of one’s demise. Here the lives of those affected by Lola’s run are presented in a series of quick images bursting on screen, a slide of show of hope or despair decided by the whims of a woman with orange hair bumping into any person on the streets of Berlin.

The premise itself isn’t even particularly novel by the late 90’s. You have had similar stories peppered throughout film history, but as with all things it’s how Lola is about its subject. Where other films may get too hung up on their themes and story Tykwer simply abandons concerns for the pure shot of adrenaline his camera can provide. And this attitude may be even more instructive than the contents of the film itself, that everything should be done in the service of look and tone. Even with the life and death stakes of the film that those feelings come second to the roller coaster of filmic possibility Tykwer can pull from a hat.

There’s something to be said of this pure rush coming from the city and country that used to literalize the heart of the Cold War, but it’s probably merely incidentally influential on the final movie. Tykwer had made something, unconcerned but deeply rooted in the thought and culture of the time. Not effortlessly cool, but excitingly forceful. The hit of euphoria that comes from total exertion. And one of the few films that truly lives and breathes on style alone, not to its detriment, but to its excellence.

Odds and Ends

  • Tykwer’s career never panned out in the way this film promised. Instead he got relegated to middling thrillers and dramas before becoming the right hand man for The Wachowskis. The one exception is Perfume, which isn’t a success, but is totally bizarre on a scale rarely scene.
  • Tykwer’s scores for his films are quite good, and I think his work here and on Cloud Atlas are both impeccable.
  • I imagine that Lola could work as the background of a rave. It’s all energy with perfectly placed breaks.
  • There has been writing about how the structure of this movie resembles that of a video game. I can understand it (starting from the same place and trying again to accomplish a goal), but I disagree because this film is not about accruing skill, but instead noting the whims of fate.

As always, twitterletterboxd, and I Chews You (the podcast about cooking and eating Pokemon).

Next week we choose life as we look out for Danny Boyle’s 1996 breakout Trainspotting.