In the Loop: Run Lola Run

It’s a joke now that we’ve all been repeating the same day over and over for more than a year now. I had been thinking about this and also my unapologetic love of time loop movies.

Welcome to In the Loop, a project where I will write about time loop movies (and on occasion, TV shows) once a week.

Note: I will be writing about all of these movies as if you’ve seen them, so spoilers ahead!

Run Lola Run (1998, directed by Tom Tykwer)

  • Time until the loop begins: 35 minutes
  • The cause of the loop/inciting incident: Lola wanting to make sure she and Manni survive
  • Number of time loops: 2
  • Lessons learned: Fate can be changed. Or maybe don’t leave a sack of money on the subway

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After you watched Run Lola Run, you bought the soundtrack. That’s just how this movie worked.

The image of Lola (Franka Potente) running through the streets of Berlin with her flame-red hair is so iconic that everything else about the movie feels almost irrelevant. It’s just fun to watch her.

The plot is pretty sparse — Lola’s boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) lost a bag full of 100,000 marks that he needs to turn over to some gangsters and they have 20 minutes to find a way to get the money. After this initial phone call, the 20 minutes more or less play out in real-time, with Lola running through the streets to get to her father (Herbert Knaup), a bank executive. He fails to give her the money and Lola then attempts to stop Manni from robbing a grocery store but decides to go along with it. The two are confronted by the police and Lola is shot and killed.

Then, as she’s dying, Lola’s able to reset to the time when she hung up the phone with Manni initially. The 20 minutes repeat, with a few changes since Lola clearly learned from her previous experiences, but this time, it results in Manni’s death. She resets things one last time, and this time, everything lines up for Lola and Manni (Lola wins money in a casino, Manni finds the homeless man that ran off with his money) and they actually come out ahead.

Well, I say that Lola is resetting the 20 minutes, but we actually don’t know for sure. The mechanics of what is happening are never actually explained, nor does it really need to be, but Lola does seem to have some odd powers — her screams can break glass, for one thing, and she revives a dying man in an ambulance — so I’ve chosen to attribute it to her. There’s even an implication that Lola is able to change the fates of who she encounters (we see these futures in flashes of still photos and they change with each iteration).

I don’t think the movie is implying that Lola is actually some kind of superheroine, though. The reality of what is happening isn’t what writer/director Tom Tykwer is interested in. In high late ’90s style, he uses animation, split-screens, different video effects. It’s inventive and playfully experimental, sometimes feeling like a music video and sometimes feeling like a low-budget soap opera. He manages all these tons well and it keeps the movie moving. And at only about 80 minutes, Run Lola Run keeps right to the point. Sure, Tykwer could’ve pushed the length to closer to two hours, but the sparseness of the storytelling is what makes this work. He’s able to pull many thoughts about free will and fate without lingering over these points.

Of course, Manni is the weak point in this movie. I think Bleibtreu does what he can with the character given this is clearly all about Potente’s Lola, but Manni just comes across as a bit too willing to blame and whiny. Yes, I get his life is at stake, but I did feel curious as to what Lola actually saw in him. We do get a couple of flashbacks where they discuss their relationship, but their connection never feels strong. I appreciate Lola is loyal and wants to help Manni, but I wish he had more of a personality.

Mostly, though, for all of the plot and philosophy, it’s just about watching Lola run. Tykwer and the rest of the cast realize that. But ultimately it’s her stillness at the end that feels the most satisfying.

Next week on June 29: Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow

In the Loop logo by Sarah Burnett. If you’d like to support this project, buy one of my Polaroids.