Lying somewhere between a quasi-magical realization of chaos theory and a story of videogame logic, the most apt technical description of Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run is as a long-form music video. Although the premise is simple –the eponymous Lola races across Berlin to save her boyfriend Manni and scrounge up 100,000 Deutschmarks in 20 minutes – the execution is the most immediately noteworthy aspect of the film: the twenty minutes repeat across the film’s running time, but with minute variations owing to the differences that Lola makes to each attempt at saving Manni.
However, much of the critical insight into Run Lola Run is to be gathered not from the narrative alone, but from the soundtrack, which by design, resonates with the variations in Lola’s personal time loop. Sound design helps explicate the relationship between Lola’s internal turmoil and the course of the immediately succeeding twenty minutes. Ultimately, Run Lola Run transcends any convenient answer to the question of whether free will or pre-destination governs the universe.
The film does not rule out any answers to that question, but rather, suggests that the question is meaningless and irrelevant to the momentum of life. The most telling evidence of this point is the quote which opens the film, in which a legendary German football coach Sepp Herberger, essentially asserts that the only certain quality of life is its uncertainty. The initial sequence which follows, in which a highly anxious Manni relays his state of peril to Lola, is essentially a set up to the film’s narrative momentum and Lola’s emotional arc.
Lola explains how a stolen moped prevented her from meeting up with Manni as they had originally scheduled, whilst Manni notes how carelessness caused him to lose 100,000 Deutschmarks that were in his trust as courier. If he does not recover or replace the money in twenty minutes, his mob superiors are liable to kill him. The dialogue is frantic and escalates to a fever pitch, but oh so gradually to the extent that viewers don’t realize it until the direness of the situation is fully presented to them. Manni concludes his plight with what essentially amounts to a challenge.
At this point the scene’s pressure is vented through Lola’s piercing shriek, which recurs over the course of the film. What the scene essentially does is to bring the narrative to a state of alertness where one life is in peril, time is of the essence and one girl must save him. Music also plays a critical role in establishing the emotional rhythm of the film. Faintly indicated earlier is the fact that most of Run Lola Run’s running time is devoted to the repetition of twenty minute stretches of time devoted to each of Lola’s attempts to gather the necessary funds to save Manni.
The musical score of Run Lola Run is not a particularly expansive one. Almost entirely comprised of pulse-pounding techno beats, with only a limited number of cues, the soundtrack builds upon the themes by elaborating upon itself between runs. The first of Lola’s runs opens with a rather simple set of beats, complimented with guitar samples and arrives at the supermarket to similarly unelaborated pulses. The entire first run and its soundtrack sets the framework for the two additional runs to follow, by plainly bringing to light Lola’s personal crises – the potential risk of losing Manni and the bleak detachment of her banker father.
By the conclusion of the first run, Lola’s personal resolve is emboldened to the point that the second run opens with a more determined rhythm. This determination is made even more unambiguous by the lyrics which compliment most of the second run’s duration, essentially a rave club style credo to throw caution to the wind in favor of love. However, the second run finishes on music similar to the first run’s opening, suggesting that matters are not all that simple, and that essentially Lola has found no more answer in robbing her father’s bank than she has in simply rushing to Manni empty-handed.
By the end of the first two runs, two themes become immediately apparent: Lola’s fear that she is not in control of her own life or her relationships with others and Manni’s lack of faith and/or skepticism towards the sincerity of Lola’s affections for him and the power of love. While these themes are expounded upon in red-tinted monochromatic interludes between each run, the themes are also expressed in the soundtrack: In the second run, the lyrics suggest that Lola’s sheer panic and emotional resolve should be enough to solve all problems, but they are not.
It is not until the resolve of free will and faith in personal destiny are successfully integrated by Lola, that she comes to realize a literal alchemy at the casino. Lola throws a fist full of Deutschmarks into gambling chance, but it is a long-drawn out shriek that knocks the roulette ball into her winning number. Here the shriek, seemingly played in earlier scenes as the affectation of a stereotypical woman in panic, is realized as the ultimate expression of Lola’s will.
At the bank with her father, and over the phone with Manni, Lola’s shriek forces all to stop and listen. Interestingly enough, no one seems to fully acknowledge her shriek, save for at the casino when her panic and resolve reach their ultimate resolution. By design, the shriek represents her deep want to save Manni and her strong will to succeed at that endeavor. Lola takes a chance on the uncertainty of fate, but influences it with her will, not unlike what chaos theorists could say of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil setting off a tornado in Texas.
Through its interplay of sound design against the narrative rhythm of a music video, Run Lola Run conflates free will and determinism into one another, in order to recognize their mutual relevance to the actions we may take in life. While self-determination is frequently cited as the source of an individual’s strength in attaining his or her goals, it would be foolish to presume that all of life is merely a matter of control. Just as Lola’s influence on strangers and friends is almost haphazardly random, total control over our personal lives is uncertain. Not much is certain but the chances we take.