Run Lola Run

The German new wave of cinema was a direct commentary of the nation’s post-World War II disharmony. Instead of the ideal Germany portrayed in Nazi era propaganda, the modern Germans films show a dirtier, grungier, and far more realistic depiction of the nation in its current sensibility. In Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run, the present Germany is one which has prevalent violence and severe repercussions for choices that are made. The thesis of the film Run Lola Run is that any moment can change the whole outcome of our lives, as well as the people who exist on the peripherals of our lives. Through the use of plot, alteration of film and cinema convention, visual iconography, color, and tribute to past films of the action and thriller genres, director Tom Tykwer creates a completely original story that transcends film movements and genre to make a point about the nature of filmdom and the interrelationship between audience and character.

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The plot, as it is, concerns the title character Lola and her attempts to save her boyfriend Manni after he has lost an impressive sum of money belonging to his gangster employer. If Lola does not deliver 100,000 German marks to a certain location within a given time limit, Manni’s life will be in danger. The film is told as three different stories, all beginning from this same initial plot point. The choices Lola makes not only affect her and Manni, but all the people that she encounters on her treks. The most powerful scene in the film is the third and final ending where the hero and heroine are finally headed towards a happy ending. Part of the reason that this moment is so powerful is that nothing in the film has led the audience to expect a happy resolution. Christine Haase writes:

Twice, the couple delivers the money but one of them dies, thereby partially achieving the goal while destroying the heterosexual pairing such movies are expected to produce, until finally the film resolves into a happy ending, reaffirming the couple’s love in unambiguous Hollywood fashion. The first two versions therefore play like ironic reminders of stereotypical views of German art cinema, suggesting that life is bleak, depressing, and usually does not end on a happy note. It is as if the film needs several tries to catch on to the proper mode of mass entertainment, that is, until it finally gets it right, tongue in cheek” (Haase 184).

It is the moment when all the kinetic energy of the running and the techno music and the blasts of color and quick edits stop that the audience, like Lola, finally feels the ability to breath. The roller coaster ride is over and the care is headed toward the loading bay. With this moment comes a feeling of euphoria for the character s as well as the audience who have gone along for the ride.

In her essay, “Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run and the Usual Suspects,” author Barbara Kosta writes, “That plot that serves as a mere skeleton is condensed into the first few minutes of the film. It offers just enough glue to hold together the visual kaleidoscope — while it unglues its protagonists, Lola and Manni, from the realm of realism” (T-68). Critics agree that the limited plot is not the focus of the movie. What happens to the characters is secondary to how the film uses light and movement to highlight the intensity and the surrealism of the situation in which Lola finds herself. Instead of following the traditions of the German New Wave, director Tykwer breaks the mold and instead models the techniques of his cinematography and filmmaking on his own aesthetic perspective. One of the ways Tykwer creates this unique sense of aesthetic is through the reconfiguration of “temporal linearity and circularity, action and causality, movement and stasis around the central problems of embodied subjectivity, spatio-temporal intervals, and hetero-topic experience” (Wedel 129). By taking away the traditional linear structure of film, the director even further immerses the audience in his own point-of-view and the viewer has no choice but to accept the rules of the creation.

The film has become renowned for its visual design and the iconography that is created by the bright colors. It is not then surprising to discover that it was a singular image he encountered on an otherwise normal day that inspired Tykwer to write and direct Run Lola Run. He is quoted in Barbara Kosta’s essay as saying:

There was the image of a woman running, who for me represented the primal image [Urbild] of cinema because it connects dynamism and emotion. You conceptualize a dynamic series of events that may be viewed as only mechanical and that you simultaneously infuse with emotion. I imagined a woman with red hair and her hair had to blow and she had to project desperation and passion” (T-69).

As he was possessed by this singular image to the extent that he wrote an entire film around her character, so too the audience is immediately drawn into the world of this woman. It is important that the film begins not directly with the story, but with a cartoon representation of a female figure fighting a multitude of obstacles until she is swept into a tunnel.

Critics have taken note of the bright colors used throughout the film which fuel the energy of the action and thus increase the speed and intensity of the character’s agency. Of particular interest to author Patti Bellatoni is the color red throughout the film. She writes:

If it weren’t for red’s energy, Lola couldn’t run fast enough for the various time / space continuum shifts to play out. Not only is red her , the color also keeps our anxiety level at the bursting point. Lola’s hair is and inside her head, her mind, racing with solutions, is what keeps her running. In the red ambulance, Lola changes her future by bringing the security guard (who began the movie) back to life. It’s in the saturated red light of the “dream sequences” when Lola and Manni choose whether to live or die (22).

The color red is one of the most challenging for the human eye. It is a jarring color, the color of blood and fire and most often associated with danger and destruction. To be so inundated with this color as a primary icon puts assists the viewer in feeling the character’s agency and the pressure of her mission.

This character is fearless and unable to be defeated. In her mutation to flesh and blood, Lola becomes three-dimensional and subsequently stronger and more vulnerable. She is no longer fighting clocks and spider webs, but human beings with the intent and ability to cause harm. Lola in the real world is not invulnerable. The weapons aimed at her can harm her and killer her. As writing her story made this icon real for Tykwer, so too does he show the audience the process of giving life to his imagination. Not only is Run Lola Run a film that creates a dialogue with the new wave, but one that takes its influences from the history of film and media. “The use of the spirals (movement) throughout the film, for example, is a visual reference to Fritz Lang’s M; the painting of the woman’s head from behind the casino is a tribute to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which Tykwer includes among his favorite films” (Kosta T-68). The film then is not only a movie that functions as an excellent example of an action thriller, but serves as a tributary film to all other action thrillers.

The above components all work together to form a truly unique cinematic experience. By both defying what is expected of a German arthouse film and in the same moment, paying homage to classic example of suspense and action film history, Run Lola Run and its creator Tom Tykwer present an original cinema experience. Through the inundation of sights, sounds, colors, and action, the audience is thrust quickly into the uncertain fictitious universe where anything can happen and even the slightest change in course can completely alter the outcome for both Lola and her boyfriend and the audience that accompanies them on the journey. The film brings the audience into the urgent mission that Lola must undertake. As she experiences the quick necessity for large sums of money in a very brief period of time, so too the audience is placed alongside her, feeling her stress and the adrenaline pumping as she works to ensure the protection of her boyfriend and their lives together. We feels her highs and lows as she is rebuffed by her father. We feel her trying to catch her breath as she is shot by police. We feel her renewed energy as the process begins again. Through each stage of the saga, the audience is carried into Lola’s experience and so her despondencies become our own and her eventual happiness becomes our own as well.

Works Cited:

Bellantoni, Patti. If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: the Power of Color in Visual Storytelling.

Oxford, UK: Focal Press. 2005. Print.

Haase, Christine. “Bambi, Zombie, Gandhi: The Cinema of Tom Tykwer.” When Heimat Meets

Hollywood: German Filmmakers and America, 1985-2005. 2007. 162-196. Print.

Kosta, Barbara. “Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run and the Usual Suspects: The Avant-Garde,

Popular Culture, and History.” Ed. Agnes C. Mueller. German Pop Culture: How ‘American’ Is It? Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2004. Print.

Run Lola Run. Dir. Tom Tykwer. Perf. Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtreu. Sony Pictures

Classics, 1998. DVD.

Wedel, Michael. “Backbeat and Overlap: Time, Place, and Character Subjectivity in Run Lola

Run.” Ed. Warren Buckland. Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema. Chicester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.