A review requested by Andrew Johnson, with thanks to supporting Alternate Ending as a donor through Patreon.

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It is, in principle, the job of the movie critic to be objective, or at least to feign objectivity, and this I cannot do for Run Lola Run. The 1998 film, which I first saw in I think 2001, spent a large chunk of the early 2000s as one of my absolute favorite films of all time, and while I'm old and wise enough now to be able to notice the bits and pieces of the film that don't work (most notably that a film dedicated first and above all to sustaining a feverish forward speed - in either the English title or the original German Lola rennt, the very name of the film implies running as the primary activity of the plot - gets slower as it gets closer to the end; this is maybe not an accident), I have a damn near Pavlovian response to the film's techno soundtrack and shocking blasts of color. I love it a lot, basically, and I love it enough to ignore its flaws or even to flatly declare them virtues.

Not that it's a film particularly riddled with flaws. The big one, if you go in for such criticisms, is that's shallow as all hell: this is one of the most purely affective movies that I think I can name. Oh, it has characters, and a plot, and a theme about how true love gives you the power to overcome seemingly any setback, but not once have I watched the film and walked away from it thinking about those things, when I could instead be thinking about e.g. the techno soundtrack and the color. Or the saucy, elaborately showy structure, which explicitly positions itself as following the philosophy of team sports - when you lose, you just have to get up and try to win again next time - though it seemed at the time and still seems to be world cinema's first wholehearted embrace of the narrative logic of video games.

If you haven't had the pleasure, this is what happens in Run Lola Run: in Berlin, a young woman named Lola (Franke Potente) lives with her parents, and dates a low-level mobster named Manni (Moritz Bleibtrau). One day, she gets the call you never want to get from your mobbed-up boyfriend: he lost 100,000 Deutsche Marks he was running for his boss, and if he can't replace it in 20 minutes, he's going to die. Luckily for Lola, she thinks she can extract the money from her banker dad (Herbert Knaup). Unluckily, getting from home to her dad's bank to the plaza where Manni frantically waits, running flat-out, will take about... nineteen and a half minutes.

So Lola runs. As she runs, a series of songs and instrumental cues composed by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, and Tom Tykwer (the last of whom is also the film's writer and director), and sung where applicable by Potente, play out virtually without interruption on the soundtrack, adding an unrelenting, pulsing beat that makes Lola's run seem even faster, as well as more exhausting. Finally, she arrives just late enough to see Manni get involved in a stand-off with the cops - he elected to rob a grocery store in the hopes that it would have 100,000 DM lying around, the sweet dumbass - and in attempting to defuse the situation, Lola gets shot dead.

And then comes the game-over cutscene - I really cannot think of it any other way - where Lola lies across Manni's arm, light with searing cherry-red light, musing on love and life. This vision is enough to cause Lola, through sheer force of will, to respawn at the moment she hung up with Manni 20 minutes earlier, and from there she runs through the day again, making small but significant different choices to try and achieve a better result; rinse and repeat till she gets it right.

The structure is, far and away, the thing that stands out the most, as well it might. This isn't the Groundhog Day routine, still falling into a clear character arc as Lola learns more about herself and life with each new trip; it's honestly not even clear that Lola remembers what happens between runs, nor can I imagine that the film would benefit or suffer from that clarity. The player does not, after all, wonder if Mario remembers getting hit by that fireball or if Sonic (to pick the most obviously correct point of comparison) recalls falling onto those spikes; the player remembers, and that's sufficient.* Lola is, despite those languid philosophical discussions after somebody dies, and despite Potente's hugely engaging screen presence, not somebody with enough inner life to particularly notice or care what's going on in her head; she's a being of pure momentum and instinct, defined more by her bright red hair and seafoam green plants than anything else.

The fact that the protagonist and title character is easier to describe as a costume than as a personality is very much the point of Run Lola Run. This is an exercise in sensory overload that, for reasons of convenience, has taken the form of a narrative film running to some 80 minutes (60 minutes of running in something very close to real time, 5 minutes of credits, about 8 minutes of preamble, and the rest is various interstitial moments). It's more invested in color than in storytelling: red for Lola, yellow for Manni, the pair of colors chosen because they're so grating on the eye in overabundance, and suggest alertness and danger, to a viewer brought up in Western color codes, at least. It's certainly more invested in rhythm. I cannot begin to say whether the music or the script came first, but the effect is very much that the film serves the music rather than the other way around; each one of the film's sequences feels substantially like a music video, and everything about the pace of the filmmaking follows the pace of the song. Which gets me back to the weird thing that the film slows down; or at least, the cutting slows down. And the main song used in the middle third is somehow slower and more downbeat than the other two (only relatively), matching the fact that this is the run where Lola sustains an injury that causes her to limp early on. It makes sense, though I'm not sure that I like it. On the other hand, a film that kept up the musical rhythm and cutting pace of the first third might have been literally too tiring to even watch it.

Along the way, Tykwer and crew (editor Mathilde Bonnefoy, cinematographer Matt Griebe, costume designer Monika Jacobs; there are many others, of course, but I think those are the big three) have fun with mixing things up in small, playful ways. One repeated gesture is that when Lola has a particularly salient encounter, we get a quick flash in grainy still images of what the future holds for the person she's just literally run into (in all three versions, we get a flash of an ill-tempered middle-aged woman played by Julia Lindig, whose life changes dramatically based on how exactly her encounter with Lola interrupts her day's schedule); another is that the initial part of the run is shown through a sloppy, sketchy passage of animation. Any time the action switches to any characters other than Lola and Manni, the medium changes from film to crappy '90s videotape.

One thing the film gets particular mileage out of is is using direct shots of faces: the characters are all introduced as mugshots, and later any time that Lola has to stop and think, she stares right into the camera to do so. When she's deciding which of her acquaintances to hit up for money, the film very quickly cuts through a series of frontal shots of people: in keeping with the video game motif, it feels powerfully like the character select screen in an arcade fighting game (and really, the whole movie, with its nonstop techno beat and the "quick, feed in another quarter!" vibe when somebody dies, feels more specifically like a jacked-up arcade trip than playing a video game at home).

At the end of the day, does Run Lola Run have anything to offer but the purely sensual joy of watching speed happen in a highly cinematic form of color, movement, and lightning-fast editing to music? Does Run Lola Run actually need to offer any more than that? To both questions, I'd say "no" - I doubt Tykwer would agree with me, and I'm sure in fact that the film is supposed to be a fable about how love conquers all, including time, death, and physics. And I suppose that's fine, if you really want those things to be there. For me, the overwhelming sensation and spectacle are both enough. After all, cinema is primarily a medium of motion; maybe it is the most kinetic of all media. And Run Lola Run puts in a fine bid to be considered the most exhilarating depiction of speed in all of the movies.

*This is a '90s movie and requires '90s video game references. I suspect a player in the 2010s could have a very different perspective on what the character does or doesn't "remember", not least because characters have discernible psychologies that they lacked back in the good old days when "the mustache man jumps on the angry turtle" was the totality of a game's plot.