Published July 1, 1999
Run Lola Run, written and directed by Tom Tykwer, is the kind of film for which critics must have invented the word “stylish.” It is so stylish in fact that it thinks it has nothing to do but to be stylish. And indeed many critics seem to have forgiven it all its many little incoherences for the sake of its stylishness. I am not against such an act of indulgence in principle, but in practice — which is to say while actually watching the thing — I found my admiration for the picture’s stylishness an insufficient insulation against the irritation caused me by its loose ends.
Lola’s very high concept is fairly easy to grasp. Like Groundhog Day or Sliding Doors or last month’s Twice Upon a Yesterday, it is an exploration of alternative realities, though unlike those films it has almost no philosophical interest in the questions raised by such an exploration. Lola (Franka Potente) gets a phone call from her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), who has just managed to lose a bag containing 100,000 DM on the Berlin metro — money belonging to some gangsters for whom he was acting as a courier. If he does not appear with that amount in cash at the assigned meeting place in 20 minutes, he tells her, he will certainly be killed.
Beyond her love for Manni, Lola has two powerful motivations for undertaking the almost impossible task of raising 100,000 marks (about $60,000) in 20 minutes. For one thing, she feels partly responsible for Manni’s predicament. She was to have met him on her moped to convey him and the money to the appointed place, but her moped was stolen. That’s why he took the subway. More importantly, it is clear that Lola’s and Manni’s relationship is built around the expectations created by her competence and his rather sweet fecklessness. He has screwed up again; he needs her again. It’s her job to come through for him.
From this point on, however, the narrative takes three different courses, presented to us sequentially. In the first, Lola is delayed for a moment on the stairs of her apartment by a man and a dog (shown in an animated sequence). In the second, the man trips her; she falls down the stairs and is delayed for a moment or two longer. In the third, she leaps over the dog and gains several seconds. On these varying start times depend the three different outcomes of her mission, two of them unsuccessful and the third, which ends the film, successful. The impression thus conveyed is of someone who, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, has been permitted to rewind the tape of her life and replay it until she gets things right.
This is the playful, postmodern spirit at work again. But here there is not, as there is in the earlier film, any sense of moral development from one life-outcome to the next. It is not even clear whether or not Lola knows on her second and third runs through the city that she has done this before. In fact, neither Lola nor Manni has any internal life to speak of — which, to my way of thinking, rather wastes the opportunity afforded by Tykwer’s fantastical grant to this sexy but otherwise unprepossessing couple of the one gift we know has never been vouchsafed to any mortal being.
Moreover, our consciousness of that impossibility makes the whimsy by which it is so casually abolished here take over the movie. Along Lola’s route as she runs with piston-like strides through the city towards the bank where her father (Herbert Knaup) works, she encounters a woman with a baby in a stroller, a boy who offers to sell her his bicycle and a man pulling his car out of a garage. Her interaction with each is altered by the altered time of their meeting. This is natural enough, but we are then treated to a brief photomontage headed und so dann. . . in which each of the strangers’ lives is presented to us as radically altered by the encounter. Why? The logic by which every one of these seemingly inconsequential meetings is said to produce momentous results is simply assumed, not demonstrated, except in two cases where they lead directly to accidents.
When Lola arrives at the bank, her father is having an argument with his mistress. In the first two stories, the point at which she interrupts them is crucial to what follows; in the third, by another quirky coincidence (being earlier, she does not delay the man pulling his car out of the garage, who turns out to be driving to an appointment with her father), she misses her father altogether. As a result she is forced to barge into a casino and win the money by five minutes’ worth of what appears to be psychokinesis at the roulette wheel. It was at this point that po-mo whimsy became altogether too much for me and Lola came to seem not of this earth in one too many ways. It’s a pity, because one would have liked to think that her stylishness deserved better.