Lola receives a phone call from Manni asking for her help to replace 100,000 Marks that he has misplaced on the subway. The money is for his gangster boss, who is certain to kill Manni if he doesn’t receive it. Lola has 20 minutes to find the cash and reach Manni before he resorts to robbing a supermarket. The film portrays three varying narrative timelines of events where small choices made by Lola impact not only on Manni’s own fate but also all on those with whom she comes into contact.
Tykwer’s fourth feature was a huge success in Germany and sparked what was considered to be a new era of German cinema. Functioning at an extremely high pace, the film reflects restlessness in a German society that had been through enormous change and that was preparing to embark on a new century. Heavily influenced by American and British genre cinema, Tykwer set out to create a film that presented national themes in an international way. As discussed by David Clarke, with the innovative look to his films, Tykwer was soon considered to be an auteur by critics, with a clear focus on action throughout and themes about questioning the natural elements of life such as relationships and the future. This essay discusses how the unusual filmic style and signature themes of Tykwer situate him as an easily recognisable auteur.
The film begins with a blurred vision of a crowd and a voiceover questioning the purpose of life. This voiceover comes from Hans Paetsch (1939– 2002), Germany’s most popular fairy-tale narrator. Faces are picked out from the crowd; the audience doesn’t know it yet but these are the people that Lola will interact with and whose lives she will affect. One man in the crowd looks into the camera and says, ‘the ball is round, the game is 90 minutes, everything else is just theory’. This is in fact a quote from the football coach, Sepp Herberger, who brought the German football team to victory in the 1954 World Cup. The use of Paetsch and Herberger in this opening sequence provided instantly recognisable reference points for the contemporary national audience of this film, but also for those familiar with German culture generally.
The film’s heroine, Lola, is quickly introduced. She is on the phone to her boyfriend, Manni, and a series of flashbacks play out in black and white, explaining what had occurred in the hour before. This black and white style clearly signifies the past, as by contrast, both characters are surrounded by bold colours in the present time scenes. Lola has bright red hair and Manni appears in the bright yellow phone booth; both are colours that Tykwer uses to signify the danger that the characters are in. Both characters are heard repeating the mantra ‘100,000 Marks’ from many different camera angles. The repetition of this action from different perspectives links in with the different angles that Lola’s life will take depending on the choices she makes hereon in. This is also evident in the television programme that Lola has playing in the background, as it shows one domino fall into another, the consequence being that all the others fall. The ‘domino effect’ is repeated several times in the film; for instance in one scenario Lola causes a car accident, delaying Manni’s gangster boss from reaching him on time, but in the other scenario the car crash is avoided and so Manni has no respite from his violent boss.
The familiarity that is used to draw in the national audience is echoed throughout the film, as familiarity is a driving force of Tykwer’s work. As the film has three alternative narratives set in the same locations, we become extremely familiar with Lola’s surroundings. We are introduced to Lola in her bedroom in her parent’s apartment. The room is dingy and a 360-degree track shot shows us that each wall is painted a different colour; it is messy and fits in with her scruffy appearance. On first impressions it could be that this dark room is part of a bedsit or small flat; however, when Lola emerges we enter the rest of the luxurious apartment and it is bright and fresh in stark contrast to Lola’s room. The apartment and appearance of her mother on the telephone is reminiscent of the bourgeois portrayals of earlier German cinema. Lola appears as a rebellious nonconformist young woman. This is supported by the soundtrack that accompanies Lola as she runs: techno music plays and footage is edited on the beat, switching from long shots to close-ups. As Lola runs down the street, frames are removed making it appear that she is advancing faster. This filming style appears similar to that of music videos, perhaps trying to appeal to the MTV generation of the late 1990s, as reflected by the character Lola herself. In these opening minutes Lola is presented as outgoing and confident, not afraid to express herself or break the rules.
The filming style of Tykwer is a key component in engaging the audience. The 20 minutes of Lola’s run are played out three times, heightening the suspense as the resolution is delayed. Each time Tykwer presents the first segment of Lola’s run in an animated style. Combined with the fastpaced music the scene has the look of a video game; each time the sequence is slightly different – the first time Lola is scared of a dog in the hallway, the second time she is tripped up by its owner, but the third time she jumps over them. This reinforces the video game style as Lola has learnt from her mistake and improves the first section of her run, just as the player would learn how to complete a level of a videogame after a few attempts. The camera spirals the staircase each time echoing the camera work from an earlier auteur, Alfred Hitchcock in masterpiece films such as Vertigo (1958).
As Lola continues to run, parallel editing is used to cut to her father working at the bank. He is having an affair with his colleague, Jutta, and she is questioning his love for her. He is a successful man with a family, and to outsiders he appears content with hit lot, but his life is full of cracks and deceit. These scenes are not shot with the same crispness as the outdoor scenes of Lola running. The footage is grainy and the handheld camera is deliberately distracting for the audience. This serves to distance us from these characters and causes our empathy to remain with the vibrant Lola. She interrupts the lovers’ conversation and asks her father to give her the 100,000 Marks that Manni needs, but as he doesn’t know who Manni is, he refuses. Escorting her off the premises he tells her he is not her father and won’t be returning to the family home. This bizarre and blunt exchange occurs so quickly that it is almost dreamlike.
The hazy red bedroom scenes that occur in between the second and third timescales prompt the concept that the film’s three narrative scenarios are dreams. Lola and Manni lie in bed sharing their thoughts with each other. Lola asks Manni if he loves her and questions how he can be sure, and then the second scenario begins. This is the scene that we go back to, reinforcing the central importance of their relationship. Manni asks Lola, what would she do if he were to die? She responds saying she wouldn’t let him and so the last scenario begins. It could be argued that the narratives that follow are dreamlike sequences where Lola is playing out the questions they have posed to each other. Would she be able to save him? How would she do it? Do they love each other enough to risk everything? In each scenario obstacles get in her way and a second’s difference in her actions or a slight change in her decisions alter the story that follows greatly. It becomes intriguing to the audience that familiar surroundings, characters and conversations do not become predictable, as each narrative differs.
The filming style constantly provides the viewer with the unexpected. In the first order of events a split screen is used to show in one half Lola running to Manni and in the other half him waiting for her. The clock then appears at the bottom of the screen highlighting her race against it. An audience influenced by Hollywood cinema may expect Lola to reach Manni just in time, akin to the action films where the hero is in a race against the clock to disarm a bomb. However, expectations are not met as the clock reaches 12 and Manni enters the supermarket to rob it. As the couple flee the supermarket ‘What A Diff’rence A Day Makes’ sung by Dinah Washington is the accompanying track. This recognisable voice and recognisable lyrics enables an international audience to relate to the song, expanding the film’s familiarity from the national appeal of the opening scene.
Unconventional turns in the narrative continue as the police arrive and Lola is shot. This is a shock as we expect the heroine to escape the ordeal. As Lola falls to the ground the audience may well question where the director will take the characters now, as we are only 20 minutes in. This results in a lack of satisfaction; the death of the heroine is not the conventional resolution. Luckily for an audience requiring a more ‘Hollywood’ conclusion Tykwer quickly provides an alternative ending. Tykwer often employs a graphic match to change narrative direction, between locations or time frames and here he does so again. The red bag containing the stolen money spins into the air and is interchanged with the spinning red phone, which Lola uses to communicate with Manni at the start of the narrative. The graphic match takes us back to the beginning, signifying that Lola has another chance to make things work.
Throughout her run Lola comes into contact with several strangers; as we see them three times during the film, these characters become recognisable to us. Each time she sees them Lola has a slightly different impact upon their lives. This theme of consequence runs through the 81 minutes of the narrative as it is presented. Her inability to pick up Manni in the first instance is the trigger for the entire film. Lola’s behaviour also affects the way she is treated; for example, as each sequence passes she becomes more erratic and violent. Thus the security guard at the bank shows less and less empathy towards her each time. Lola comes into contact with the homeless man who has Manni’s money in all three sequences but there is a few seconds’ difference in timing. First she runs past him but the next time she runs into him; Manni has told her that a homeless man has the money but she is so focussed on her goal that she doesn’t see the person she has collided with. It could be argued that Tykwer is demonstrating how in society we are in close proximity with each other but we do not pay attention to what surrounds us; we are in fact individuals only focussed on ourselves not community.
Tykwer’s cinematic style is exhilarating to watch, his narrative contains mainstream conventions put together in an unconventional way. The ambiguity of the film is eventually concluded as Lola succeeds in her quest in the last sequence, and so Tykwer’s action-packed style conforms finally to the Hollywood endings that had inspired his generation of filmmakers and which has global appeal.
Cast & Crew:
[Country: Germany. Production Company: XFilme Creative Pool, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), Arte. Producer: Stefan Arndt. Director and Screenwriter: Tom Tykwer. Cinematographer: Frank Grieber. Original Sound: Frank Behnke. Editor: Mathilde Bonnefoy. Cast: Franka Potente (Lola), Moritz Bleibtreu (Manni), Herbert Knaup (Vater), Nina Petri (Jutter Hansen), Ludgar Pistor (Herr Meier).]
David Clarke, ‘Welcome to Tykwer-World: Tom Tykwer as Auteur’, in GFL. Available at www.gfljournal.de/3-2006/clarke.pdf (accessed: 12 February 2012). Richard Falcon, ‘Review: Run Lola Run’, in Sight and Sound, 1999. Available at www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/review/245 (accessed: 14 February 2012).
Thom Holbrook, ‘Good God Run Lola Run’, in Thom Holbrook’s Hollywood Homepage. Available at http:// home.earthlink.net/~jinxo/lola.html (accessed: 14 February 2012).
Annegret Mahler-Bungers, ‘A Post-Postmodern Walkyrie: Psychoanalytic Considerations on Tom Tykwer’s Run, Lola, Run (1998)’, in Andrea Sabbadini (ed.), The Couch and the Silver Screen: Psychoanalytic Reflections on European Cinema, London, Routledge, 2003, pp. 82–93.
Barrie Wilson, ‘What’s It About? Reflections on Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run’. Available at www. barriewilson.com/pdf/Reflections-on-RunLola-Run.pdf (accessed: 12 February 2012).
The Routledge Encyclopedia of Films, Edited by Sarah Barrow, Sabine Haenni and John White, first published in 2015.