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Do you love me?" Lola wants to know in Run Lola Run. Her dim-witted boyfriend, Manni (a small time courier for a big-time gangster), better mumble the correct response...because she's about to try and save his life. She has twenty minutes to barrel her way across Berlin, pick up 100,000 marks, and reach Manni (while an incessant techno beat blares in the background)--or he's in big, big trouble with his unforgiving boss.
German director/writer/musician Tom Tykwer opens his 81 minute musing on choice and chance with a quote from T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets." A pixilated blur of people bustle against the suburban landscape, never seeming to notice one another. The mock-serious voice-over broods about man, "the most mysterious species on our planet." What is the human race? Where did it come from? Of course, these questions are posed by human beings, the only group capable of wondering...or answering.
Some have chastised Run Lola Run for assuming "art house" pretentious, as if foreign films must always cater to the intellectual--or resort to self-indulgent navel gazing--because that's what stuffy Germans do, according to close-minded critics. Because the 34-year-old Tykwer makes use of a self-composed electronic score ("youth music") and accentuates visual gags to an exaggerated degree (including jump cuts, quick edits, instant replay, slow-mo, montage, and animation) he mustn't have anything to say. He's having too much fun.
Maybe this knee-jerk response is true of recent overseas fare (such as Britain's Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Denmark's highly over-rated Celebration, and Germany's Funny Games) which garnered attention for non-conventional cinematography and narrative (not half as intriguing as the UK's Trainspotting or our own Pulp Fiction). These films fashioned themselves as ground-breaking, but they shared more in common with Hollywood action pics or "pop" music, carefully composed to manipulate an audience response--base level "shock value."
Run Lola Run's slim, "what if?" plot, though hardly new, has tacked some modern spins on the old existential question concerning destiny (does is exist?) not just in terms of tricky camera work or a cute, non-linear reorganization of events but with a hidden subtext that speaks to a particular generation of disillusioned, rising middle-class kids that refuse to look backward.
Examine the token people who surround young Lola. There's Papa, wheeling and dealing in a high-power exec position, secretly unhappy with his destiny, despite a fawning mistress and a comfortable income. There's Mama, sitting in front of a television that features a cartoon rendering of her punky, flame-haired daughter racing down the apartment stairs--not that she'd notice. She's too busy talking astrology on the phone. Then, most interestingly, there's the nameless passersby who slam into Lola as she gallops against the clock--such as a bike-peddling boy and a mean-spirited woman pushing a baby carriage.
Tykwer hilariously flash-forwards (three times) into distinct futures that alter whenever Lola whizzes past. One person is struck by cancer. Another wins a lottery. It almost seems that Lola's flight is changing their course of history. Could something so simple create that enormous an impact? This smacks a little of Chaos Theory, which claims that a butterfly's demise in Australia could cause a stock market collapse on Wall Street. It's an attractive idea: every innocent choice, no matter how insignificant, can ignite a chain reaction of possible consequences.
The hyper-surrealist setting, modern Berlin, worships tradition even as it heralds the fashionable and unorthodox. See Lola run smack into an ominous flock of nuns. As they part to allow her passage, we behold their black-and-white habits, their blank expressions aimed at Lola, (upcomer Franka Potente) the postmodern woman with a male movie hero's mission, ditched in her crazy green gingham pants, a lacy bra peeking beneath her sweat-rimmed tank top, the Gothic tattoos in her muscular skin. This is--and isn't--our world, hints the director (who lends Lola the power to shatter glass with her high-pitched scream). This is our world through his epileptic camera...and Tykwer makes no claim to deny it. In fact, he accentuates it...because we can't deny we're watching a movie. We, like Lola, are made of movies.
Is it even worth asking, can we classify this mix of sound and image as a motion picture? Or is Run Lola Run a video game? (No, not until the audience can control, as well as choose, the outcome...which technology might allow us to do sometime very soon.) Is Run Lola Run a feature-length music video? (Are music videos mini movies? In some cases, yes. The same applies to commercials that tell a story). If Run Lola Run is a movie, which genre applies? It contains elements of road movies, lovers on the run, gangster robberies, and most obviously, action, one of the oldest movie formats (and the most stylized, a la Buster Keaton). Tykwer plays with action movie staples (like men crossing the street with a plate of glass). His world has its own rules and logic, layered over a foundation of cinematic reference. The old and new collide to create something that contains a little of both.
Run Lola Run might be a movie about movies--one in which the protagonist evolves a kind of eerie sentience to alter her fate outside the god-like director's hands. In the animated stair sequence, Lola passes a nasty neighbor with a dog. The first time, she trips. The second time, she leaps over his leg. She also grows bolder in her approach to Papa--to the point where she develops an almost untroubled attitude: she brandishes a gun and barks orders with the calm of someone who knows everything will be okay in the end. "I don't want to go," her thoughts sigh during a death sequence. So Tykwer backs up and gives her another chance to get it right...until Lola achieves the happy resolution she truly deserves. In a world where our own existence it touted as accidental, could a movie character hope for more?