I always start with the image. I get an image in my head and I start wanting to get it moving, to build a story around it and then make a film out of it. I think the idea of making a dynamic film is a primal urge for filmmakers. That's why action films are so popular: because film can get across the sense of speed.
- writer/director Tom Tykwer
It has romance... it has comedy... it features some gunplay and a high-speed chase... it deals with the metaphysical issues of fate and destiny... it shows the disintegration of a father-daughter bond... it shows how love conquers all... it revels the senses... it taps into your emotions... but for the most part, the 1998 German film "Run Lola Run" is about a woman named Lola (Franka Potente) running from point A to point B, the reasons why she is running, and how she gets there. In this melding of experimental film with mainstream production values, writer/director Tom Tykwer has concocted a breathtaking mixture of narrative, images, and sound that bombards the senses and stirs the intellect with an unforgettable ride.
The premise of "Run Lola Run" is incredibly simple: Lola has twenty minutes to find 100,000 DM and get it across town, otherwise her boyfriend Manni (Mortiz Bleibtreu) will be killed. The film opens with Lola on the phone with Manni, who is calling from a payphone and visibly distraught. It seems that her dim-witted boyfriend left a bag containing a large sum of money on the subway, money that is owed to the crime boss that Manni works for. With the boss on his way to pick up the money at noon, Manni has only twenty minutes to replace the cash or suffer the fatal consequences.
Lola tells her panic-stricken boyfriend to remain where he is, and assures him that she will be there in twenty minutes with the money in hand, though she is not sure how. However, Manni is not as optimistic-- spying a busy supermarket across the street, he is convinced that the quickest way to get 100,000 DM would be through armed robbery. They hang up, and Lola bursts out of her apartment and down the stairs, with the faint hope of convincing her father (Herbert Knaup), who works at a large bank, to help them out. And so begins Lola's titular run, a multimedia kaleidoscope of film, grainy video, still images, split-screen, slow motion, and animation, all choreographed to a thumping techno soundtrack.
With such a threadbare plot, it sounds as though "Run Lola Run" would be nothing more than a short film. However, Tykwer throws in a number of twists that expand an otherwise limiting premise. Instead of seeing Lola accomplish the apparently impossible merely once, we are treated to three possibilities, each with slight variations and markedly different outcomes. Sometimes her banker father is in a bad mood, and sometimes he is not even there. Sometimes Lola stumbles into a woman with a stroller, and sometimes she misses her completely. In one instance, Lola arrives to see Manni holding up the supermarket, and in another she stops him in time. Like last year's "Sliding Doors", three distinct alternate realities are presented, advancing the film's theme of the interplay between fate, destiny, and the choices we make.
In a similar fashion to Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors: Red", "Run Lola Run" also demonstrates the intricate web of unseen connections that bind us all. As Lola runs past the various people she meets along the way, the film takes an aside to show what happens to that person after their brief brush with the heroine. While some find true love, fame, and fortune, others die horribly in car accidents, suffer from drug overdoses, or simply kill themselves. With each altered scenario, the destiny of each person changes as a result of their contact with Lola, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. And where the script really shines is when it cleverly illustrates the profound (and often ironic) consequences of slight alterations in Lola's path, some of which are played to great comic effect (including a sequence involving the old movie cliché of the dangers of carrying a large sheet of glass across a road).
With a high sense of urgency in the story, you would think that there would be little time for niceties such as character development. True, most of the time that Lola is on the screen is spent running, but Tykwer throws in a few character moments for good measure. These include a couple of subdued scenes of Lola and Manni discussing their relationship (sandwiched between each alternate scenario), and the discussions that Lola has with her father. These interludes not only allow the audience to catch their breath from the frenzied barrage of sounds and images of Lola's run (and thus prevent it from becoming monotonous), but they also provide the much-needed emotional hooks such that the audience actually cares about the outcome of Lola's twenty-minute workout.
"Run Lola Run" is a thrilling experiment in narrative structure and presentation that must be seen to be believed. Crafted with every cinematic technique in the book, packed with some unforgettable gee-whiz moments, and executed at blazing speed, this German import is not your run-of-the-mill three-act structure film. See Lola run... in "Run Lola Run".