Tom Tykwer’s 1998 film Run Lola Run (or Lola Rennt) is a frenetic action movie that heavily borrows its cinematic style not only from American music videos and Japanese anime films, but especially from video games. In the film, Lola’s boyfriend Manni is a bagman for a local gangster, but he has lost the money he was supposed to deliver. This leads Lola on a desperate chase to find the money and deliver it to Manni before he is killed. The abilities that Lola manifests as she runs through the streets establish her not only as a devoted girlfriend, but also as a modern superhero. The film also acts as a play on the ideas of the immutability of time and what is known as “the butterfly effect”.
In one of the first shots of the film, Manni desperately calls Lola from a pay phone while a whirling white spiral spins on the building behind him. Throughout the conversation the spiral spins and spins, never stopping, its constant motion immediately draws the eyes of the viewer. In the following shot, a clock mounted on another building replaces the spiral. Just like the spiral is always rotating, so are the hands on a clock, but the inexorable moving of the hands signifies something important to us that we cannot stop. But the spiral also represents how time runs for Lola in the film. Lola has the ability to escape linear time and is able to repeat the events of her run multiple times until she reaches her goal.
The ability to escape linear time is one of the powers that paint Lola as a video game hero. This association begins with her wardrobe. The streets of urban Germany are portrayed as being drab and filled with people dressed in dark colors, making Lola’s blue tank top and flaming red hair (a common anime characteristic) into an outlandish superhero ensemble. Lola’s main powers are her ability to run without getting tired and her super scream (another anime characteristic and also a reference to The Tin Drum). Lola can use her scream to break objects and to influence the roulette wheel at the end of the film. Lola is also able to use her gaze to influence others. Her stare forces the security guard at the casino to back down, and glare from Lola also seemingly gives the bank guard a heart attack, which she later heals through her touch. The mere act of being in the presence of Lola can influence the fate of others. As she passes people on the street during her run, there are quick snapshots of how these people’s lives turned out depending on their interaction with Lola.
All of these characterizations make Lola into a creature of boundless energy, and this is echoed in the camerawork used to portray her. As Lola runs through the streets, the camera is often placed in a set position covering the scene, which requires that it must move in order follow Lola through the shot. Her speed makes the camera move. In the wider shots, such as from the top of a building, Lola is the only thing moving with such velocity through the frame, which only seems to intensify her speed. Tykwer fills the movie with other types of inventive camera work that grabs viewer’s attention, such as the mixing of different film types, use of animation, and the usage of split-screen (especially an excellent triple screen before Lola and Manni rob the supermarket.)
The music used in the film also acts as a repository for this energy. It is all pulse-pounding dance music that pushes Lola along on her quest, often scaling up or down in speed depending on where she is. This type of music has a lack of a defined beginning and end patterns, allowing it to be played repetitively and looping back on itself, much like the loop of time that Lola has been placed in. The songs on the soundtrack almost act like an internal monologue for Lola, especially “I Wish.” This song, sung by Franka Potente (Lola herself), is about her struggling against where she has been placed and wishing she could live the life she wanted to.
All of this put together makes Lola into a kind of reluctant video game hero, only instead of being controlled by a kid with a gamepad she is controlling herself. Lola has reached the “Save Manni” stage in the game of her life and she must wade through it several times before she can find a way to beat the level. Each time she runs through the level she learns something new about how to beat it, such as when Manni teaches her how to take the safety off a gun and she remembers how to do that in her later runs. The placement of the camera also lends itself to thinking of the city as a game level. Lola rarely beats the camera to wherever she is going next, usually the camera is there first and she then enters into the frame, it is like everything has already been set-up in the level and she must work her way through it. Even though Lola is living in circular time, the world she is trapped in is made to seem linear with each area coming in a specific order and the Non-player characters (everyone except Lola) going about their lives in a set way until they are required to come into contact with Lola.
Lola is a being filled with so much energy that it permeates the film. She must use to this energy to navigate the world she lives in, and even though she may fail on her mission she users her powers to continue until she finds the correct way to reach the end, whether it be a castle with a princess inside or just a happy ending running off with Manni.