“We shall not cease from exploration,
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.”
– T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
“Lola Runs” is the literal translation of Tom Tykwer’s energized masterpiece, and I think it far more apropos than the title given to its English release. Lola runs in this film, and she runs, and she runs some more. See Lola run. Run Lola run.
Here’s the premise: Lola’s boyfriend, Manni, through an unfortunate combination of events, has lost 100,000 Deutsche Marks he must deliver to a Mobster, Ronnie, in 20 minutes. Without it, Manni is a dead man. So Lola is off.
How you make a hour and a half long movie out of this plot, I leave the audience to discover. The goal of the game is 100,000 in 20 minutes. Along the way, Lola will briefly, often imperceptibly, touch the other players on the field, and there are many of them: Herr Schuster, Jutta, Mama, Papa, Mr. Meyer, the ambulance driver, the bum Norbert von Au, and so on.
These characters are like billiard balls. They are objects in motion and will stay in motion until another force acts upon them. This force is Lola, the cue ball, bouncing around the table wreaking havoc with the clockwork of the system. In spite of the film’s large cast size, and the fact that some characters are on screen for scant seconds, we are given glimpses into their entire lives through Polaroids flashed on the screen.
To say the film is fast paced is an understatement. From the film’s opening credits to its end, an almost incessant technobeat electrifies the action. The effect is so that, when it pauses, we are left tense and on the edge of our seats.
Yet, where the movie achieves greatness is in its artistic expressions of the human condition. It encompasses the relentless clockwork of the universe, symbolized in Mama’s Astrology, the timing of the Trains, the many clocks running in the background, even Dominoes falling. There is a system beyond our control here, and we appear subject to its whims.
At the same time, the film counterbalances this with Chaos. Manni waits in front of the Spirale (Spiral) Bar, brought here by a chain of chance. This chain of chance brings us to the setting for the film’s climax, a setting that would appear deus ex machina in other films, but here it is the only answer. There is even a third act revelation with Lola and the ambulance that is quite satisfying.
This is the game. Those are the players. As the opening narration explains, “Alles andere ist Theorie.” (All else is Theory.)
See Also: Sliding Doors