Run, Lola, Run (Dir. Tom Tykwer, 1998)
Continuing my bid to only review movies that use commas in their name, I sat down to watch what is often hailed as one of the best and most imaginative foreign language films of the 1990s, Run, Lola, Run. Going into my viewing of this film, all I knew about it was that it involved Franka Potente (best known for her role in the Jason Bourne films) running around Germany set to a European techno soundtrack. Once I took in the first five minutes of this movie, it quickly became clear that it had bigger aspirations than to be a simple action movie, as the prologue to the main story features a man holding a soccer ball, asking rapid-fire philosophical questions and eventually kicking the soccer ball into the air, which “kicks” the movie itself into gear. I could have done without this segment, for the questions he asks are certainly relevant to the film, but putting them into the mind of the viewer before the film has actually started is pointless. If you’re going to touch on certain motifs in your film, you don’t need a segment at the beginning telling the viewer that you are going to do so. Just do it! Don’t waste our time. After the rough introduction, I was hoping the film would settle in and find its voice rather quickly, but it didn’t. The first 20 minutes of the film (including the unfortunate prologue) exist merely to set up the events of the film and are incredibly boring. The movie starts on a flashback that explains the situation the two main characters have to face: the titular Lola is dating a low-life criminal named Manni, who, through his own idiocy, lost 100,000 German Marks that belong to his boss, who will kill him if he doesn’t have the money back within an hour. Flashbacks can be a great tool to show, rather than tell viewers, more about the characters and plot of a film, but I can’t say I see the point in putting a flashback-heavy segment right at the beginning of a movie. Why not just make the beginning flashbacks, the actual start of the movie? It would change literally nothing, and would make the first 20 minutes of the film much easier to swallow. Now, instead of listening to the two characters narrate over footage of what happened an hour in the past, you can just show us directly how the characters go to where they are now. It would eliminate painful expository dialogue and invest the viewer much more in what is happening.
I kept believing that the movie would get better, I really did. After the expository dump of the first twenty minutes, I was ready for Lola to start running and for the action and incredibly hyped soundtrack to kick in. This film continued to baffle me, however, as, right as Lola begins to run out of her apartment, the movie inexplicably switches to animation for around a minute. It is really a baffling choice, only further compounded by the fact that the animation is really, really ugly. I mean look at this:
(It looks even worse in motion, you can watch a clip here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhCa0FtGm1s)
The animation segment is mercifully short, thankfully, and so finally, I thought to myself stupidly, the good part of this film can begin! At first, as Lola runs dramatically through the streets of Germany, desperately seeking a solution for her moribund boyfriend, I was enjoying myself. I am not a huge fan of electronic music, but if there were ever a suitable soundtrack for a woman running through European sidestreets, it was the techno and house music that was so popular in the late 90’s. Don’t get too excited though, the film makes two more costly mistakes right as it finally begins to find it’s footing. The first is one that reoccurs throughout the rest of the film and sums up perfectly why I dislike this film. As Lola is sprinting to her father’s office (more on this later), she has small, seemingly innocuous run-ins with the general public, and after Lola run offs, the movie shows us how the rest of their life is affected by their brief encounter with Lola. I understand the point of including these segments, as the director is ambitiously attempting to show a visual representation of the butterfly effect, but I think that their inclusion is unnecessary and overindulgent. As the movie progresses, we find that Lola has the supernatural ability to hit the cosmic “reset” button and attempt to save her boyfriend again, and every time she repeats her run, she makes small adjustments in her actions that have major repercussions. The movie is already showing us the butterfly effect, and even manages to do a decent job of it! There is zero reason to include the snapshots of how Lola affects the people she bumps into, and it takes a subtle theme and instead bashes the viewers head in with it. Secondly, mixed in with Lola’s spirited run are scenes of her father (although we do not know his identity at the time) having a melodramatic conversation with a female coworker about their affair and illegitimate love child. We have zero idea who these characters are, how they relate to the plot, and the vast gap between the heart-pounding thrill of Lola’s desperate quest and the eye-rolling, over-the-top scenes of a couple fighting couldn’t be any more jarring. Every time I began to get invested in Lola’s character, bam, the film cuts back to two characters I have zero reason to care about. As Lola finally arrives at the office, and it is revealed to the viewer that the man is her father, the scenes retroactively become even worse. Since Lola has no idea who the woman is either, the film could’ve easily just had the father introduce the two, and thereby the audience would be clued into what was going on. On Lola’s second run, she discovers the affair itself, but the audience has known about it for 20 minutes already, and the punch of the scene is completely pulled. If the audience were allowed to learn about the affair alongside Lola, it would make it more interesting and would make Lola a more relatable character.
Lola’s first run begins to heighten in drama after leaving her father’s office. Knowing that she is out of time, she begins to run to meet her boyfriend, hoping to stop him from robbing a grocery store in an attempt to replace the stolen cash. As she runs, the movie switches to a split-screen view that shows Lola, her boyfriend, and a clock.
As if that shot wasn’t an obvious enough reinforcement of the film’s theme and what was going on, we get a voice-over of Lola’s inner monologue that basically consists of “Manni! Wait for me! Don’t do it!”. This movie doesn’t seem to trust us with figuring out what is going on, or what it’s message is. The voice-over is obnoxious and an insult to anyone who’s ever seen a movie before. We know that noon is the deadline, so just by showing the clock, we get that Lola is not going to get there in time to stop Manni from robbing the grocery store. When Lola finally does get to the meeting spot, Manni is already inside the grocery store, robbing it. She gets there just in time to disarm the security guard and assist Manni in the robbery, accepting that the theft was now a necessary evil. Through this she learns how to turn the safety off on a gun, which will come into play later.
As Lola’s first attempt to save her boyfriend comes to a crashing halt, she is quickly given a reprieve by the movie, which resets things back to her apartment. I liked the concept of the reset at first, but if quickly became confusing to me. I assumed initially that Lola had retained all the knowledge of her initial run, and could now correct the mistakes she had made. Yet, her first move is to run off to her father again, who rudely denied and even disowned her the first time. Then, I assumed that the reset had also reset her memory, and that she was going in just as blind as the first time. So I was understandably confused when she steals a gun from a security officer, and quickly flicks the safety off, something she had to be taught by Manni how to do in her first run. This is a deliberate mistake by the filmmakers, but I don’t understand what it means. The movies continues on for this attempt and one more, but it gets no better. At it’s best, the movie is a well-edited, semi-exciting action movie, and at it’s worst it’s a movie with too many ideas, and too little execution of said ideas. I would only suggest this movie if you are a giant fan of techno music, but for most people, I would suggest you stay away.