RUN LOLA RUN
by William C. Martell
You have probably never heard about my pick for Best Motion Picture and Best Original Screenplay, but it was the #1 film in its native Germany -- beating all of the big budget US releases including that much-hyped science fiction film. During its US theatrical run I saw the film three times, and will probably see it a dozen more times now that it s on video. Why? Tom Tykwer's RUN LOLA RUN packs more story into its 81 minutes than any three bloated three hour Hollywood epics... and manages to be more inventive and imaginative at the same time.
LOLA opens with a crowd of strangers on the street... or are they strangers? As we pass through the hundred or so people we occasionally stop for a close look at one of them. A face in the crowd? Or the most important person you will ever bump into? The last person we see is a pudgy Bank Guard with a soccer ball who explains, "The ball is round. The game lasts ninety minutes. The rest is theory..." And kicks the ball into the air. From high overhead, this crowd of strangers forms the title of the film.
The strangers form the story.
RUN LOLA RUN seems to tell the same story three different times. Neon-haired Lola gets a phone call from her boyfriend Manni, a small time drug runner. A chain reaction of events has resulted in Manni losing $100,000 in drug money he is supposed to hand over to a violent drug kingpin in 20 minutes. Now Lola has 20 minutes to find $100,000 or the man she loves will be killed. Lola flips through all of the possibilities, settles on her bank president father, and starts running. Can she get to her father, convince him to give her $100,000, and get to Manni s meeting in time? The race is on!
The course between her apartment and the bank is filled with obstacles - from growling dogs to treacherous stairs to baby carriages to street traffic to sidewalk hogging pedestrians to bank guards to bicycle riders to... Each time she runs into an obstacle, Tykwer gives us a flash forward of how that collision effects their lives. A female pedestrian s anger leads to an argument with her spouse leads to a divorce leads to a downward emotional spiral ending with her becoming an alcoholic tramp. Flash! And every collision changes the outcome of Lola s run. As the minutes click away, Manni realizes that Lola will never make it in time and robs a grocery store for the money. Setting off the alarm. By the time Lola arrives the police are on the scene and things don t end well. Somebody gets killed...
But Lola hits the reset button. We re back at the beginning, and Lola has another chance to make the run in 20 minutes and save Manni from being killed. What s fascinating is how, on each of Lola s three runs, the slightest variation in the way she encounters the obstacles changes the outcome of her run (and the outcome of the obstacles lives in the flash forwards). A sprained ankle in one run puts her behind schedule so that a car that had previously hit her now drives off without incident... only to hit the drug kingpin s car, letting Manni off the hook (if he only knew that!). The smallest incident changes the entire outcome of the segment. Finally, Lola and Manni both get it right (in a completely unexpected way) and the film ends happily.
One of the most creative aspects of RUN LOLA RUN is how it uses the traditional three act structure in a most unusual way. Each of Lola s runs is an act, with the first run setting up the problem, the second run making the problem MUCH worse (Lola learns things about herself from her father that she d rather not have known), and finally learning from her past mistakes in order to solve the $100,000 problem on the third run. Manni learns from his mistakes as well. Another element of Act 2 are some dreamy sequences between the runs with Lola and Manni in bed discussing their future together. On the second or third viewing you realize the importance of these scenes to the outcome of the runs... You also begin to see the pattern in the mini- stories of the obstacles. This is not the same story told three times, it s all one story with a beginning, middle and end.
Structure in a screenplay is the order of the story incidents, and has nothing to do with chronological order. It s possible to have a story where the incidents which set up the story (act 1) take place a year AFTER the rest of the story has taken place. RESERVOIR DOGS uses flashbacks to escalate it s conflict, creating an act two that takes place weeks before act one. RUN LOLA RUN has thee acts that take place at the exact same time... parallel to each other.
Another interesting element is the use of symbols and colors to tell the story and forge relationships between story elements. The red phone, red ambulance, red bag of stolen money, and Lola's red hair become pieces of the story puzzle. Tykwer also uses actions to tell his story and reveal his characters. We SEE that Manni is dependent on Lola, we SEE Lola's fears that Manni can not be trusted to do as she says. We SEE their relationship changing through the film until they both cast aside their fears and have faith in each other to do the right thing. By SHOWING us the character's growth through actions instead of telling us through dialogue, Tykwer's screenplay hardwires itself to our subconscious. We FEEL the movie without the usual filters of language.
RUN LOLA RUN uses standard screenplay structure in a wild, inventive new way... packing a great deal of plot and character in a very brief running time. "The rest is theory..."
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copyright 2002 by William C. Martell