What I Learned from Watching . . .
Run Lola Run
Dir. Tom Tykwer
Run Lola Run is one of my all-time favorite films though I resisted seeing it at first. Something I’d read clued me in to the fact that it would be one of those stories that has repeating elements of which I’m not particularly a fan. However, my husband was teaching at a debate camp at Stanford that summer, there was no T.V. in the dorm and this was the film we hadn’t seen yet at the Aquarius Theatre in downtown Palo Alto, so reluctantly I went to see it. And loved it.
I’ve watched it countless times since then, discovering something new each time. As one of the more enigmatic characters, the bank security guard, Herr Schuster (Armin Rohde) announces at the beginning: “The ball is round, the game is ninety minutes. Let’s go!” The film starts with a bang: techno music, artsy animation, rapid-fire editing, and it’s on from there.
Briefly, a young woman, Lola (Franka Potente) has twenty minutes to help her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), raise 100,000 Deutsche marks he was to deliver to a gangster, Ronni (Heino Ferch). He’s carried out his part of a shady deal, collected the money, and, rattled, leaves it on a train when police come into the compartment to look around. A homeless man, Norbert (Joachim Krol), takes the bag with the money and is now wandering the streets of Berlin. Manni, desperate and in fear for his life, blames all of this on Lola who wasn’t at the appointed meeting place in time to pick him up because her Moped had been stolen, and that’s why Manni was on the train in the first place. Lola promises to help Manni get the money, somehow.
As always, there are many things I could examine in detail that fascinate me about this film, but these are the top three things I’ve learned from repeated viewings:
1. Violence is not the answer.
In act one Lola receives Manni’s frantic call on the red phone in her bedroom and all action stems from there. Variations in the time it takes for her to get out of her bedroom, her parents’ apartment, past the smart-aleck kid with the mean dog in the stairwell, will influence what happens next, then next and on and on. The only place she knows to go to in the first two acts is the bank where her father (Herbert Knaup) works in a position of authority and when she’s unsuccessful at persuading him to give her the money to save Manni (“Manni? Who’s Manni?” he asks, regarding Lola’s boyfriend of more than a year). As Lola rushes to give Manni the bad news and to try and prevent him from robbing the grocery store on the corner she realizes she’s too late when she sees him from a distance walking into the store, drawing a pistol from the waistband of his jeans.
He’s well into the robbery by the time Lola arrives and she ends up joining him in his efforts. When it looks like mission accomplished they make their escape to the soothing notes of Dinah Washington’s “What a Difference a Day Makes.” It’s a lovely scene, even in the wake of their crime, a romantic getaway fantasy a la Bonnie & Clyde on a really good day until reality intrudes in the form of an annoying, insistent siren that pierces the moment. It ends horribly with an accidental death and all involved realizing too late that it wasn’t worth it and nothing could be as easy as all that and –
Stop. Do over.
Between each act there’s a heartfelt conversation between Lola and Manni in bed discussing alternately what each would do if the other died. After this one where Lola discusses her death, we begin again, with the aftermath of the frantic phone call: the run to the bank where clues and missed connections are left in Lola’s wake as she runs to see her father. Again. Again an argument ensues when she interrupts an awkward scene between her father and his mistress, Jutta (Nina Petri), and after a particularly ugly confrontation where her father denies she’s even his daughter, inspiration and anger conspire to make her steal Herr Schuster's gun and rob the bank. She gets past the Polizei surrounding the building (because who would believe this this young female hipster with impossibly red hair would be capable of such an act) and is on her way to meet Manni in triumph, when tragedy strikes again.
Each time Lola or Manni try to force events to their advantage using violent means, they lose. Regret and misery are all that are left even after getting the money each time. Whatever freedom and relief they get from acquiring the money is forfeited when they face the consequences of their actions and all anyone in such a position could ever want is one more chance. Two of these are granted, two squandered. Violence committed in the name of fear and desperation doesn’t work. Remember that the next time you bat around the idea of robbing that liquor store to get the rent money/ diaper money/ money to make your movie/ save your ass, etc. Not that you’d ever think of it, mind you, but if you do it and it goes terribly wrong, you might not get your do-over.
2. Some things are just outside your control, and that’s a good thing.
Lola learned something in each preceding act, such as how a gun safety latch works, how to avoid the mean dog on the steps in the apartment house, and to leave room on the sidewalk so as not to run into the Lady with the Baby Carriage around the first corner. In the third act, she learns the fine art of surrender, that all she knows is that she doesn’t have the answer, and that she won’t be able to solve this problem all by herself.
She runs through the streets of Berlin, yet again heading to the bank, since her father is always the only person she can think of who would ever be able to get his hands on the amount of money needed to save Manni from the wrath of the gangster, Ronni. As she arrives outside the bank, she sees her father driving off with a colleague, oblivious as she calls out to him. She starts running again, partly to meet Manni, partly because she doesn’t know what else to do, as if salvation can be found in pure kineticism rather than in stasis. We hear her voice as she runs, vowing to continue running while she awaits an answer, to listen, to trust that an answer will come. Is she praying? She very well could be, releasing all control to God.
She stops running abruptly, directly in the path of a large truck whose driver berates her for her carelessness. When she looks up, a casino is straight ahead. She runs inside without hesitation, gets her chips, procedes to the tables, in spite of not being in accordance with the dress code, and bets what money she has on the roulette wheel, winning again and again, drawing the attention of the casino officials who discretely invite her to leave. She looks the toughest security guard in the eye and says: “One more game.” She bets, the wheel spins.
Lola has a habit of screaming when the desperation, warnings, chatter and stress get the best of her. Ironically it seems to quiet her mind and restore her calm. In the casino, as the number Lola wants on the roulette wheel goes round and round, the wheel begins to slow, everything riding on twenty, black, Lola’s scream comes from deep in her soul, shattering champagne glasses and turning every single head in the room. Silence. The final turn of the wheel: a quiet whoosh as the ball lands on twenty. Black.
Was Lola attempting to take control of the wheel with her final primal scream? Was the scream a manifestation of sheer force of will to stop the wheel there? Or was it instead a great “letting go” as Fate stepped in and stopped the wheel. Would any of this even have been possible without her relinquishing control as she ran? She loves Manni and this is all to save him. She listened; she followed the signs; she bet it all. She believed.
Most of us would do anything we could to save someone we love. When we’re at a total loss as to what to do, perhaps the best thing to do is to let go. Listen. Keep running and wait, so we can hear what God says to do when He speaks. Lola’s scream drowned out all doubt, disapproving looks, murmurs, the disdain of the pit bosses and security at the casino, the ones who were telling her to leave even as she stood on the brink of reaching her goal. That’s what the scream silenced. That’s when the ball landed on the number twenty. That’s when she got what she needed.
3. Give and you will receive.
What was Manni doing to help his own situation while Lola was at the casino? This film is full of Hitchcockian intersections and connections, instances where timing is everything and a missed connection makes all the difference in that moment. The do-overs between the second and third acts provide enough elasticity for learning, and gaining greater understanding and compassion, even among some of the secondary characters, especially the bank guard, Herr Schuster. There are also flashes of insight into the lives of the Young Man on the Stolen Bicycle, the Bank Teller, and Lady at the Copy Machine.
In Manni’s case, his willingness to stop and listen, much like Lola’s, makes all the difference in the world. He leaves the phone booth, where he’s been desperately calling everyone he can think of who might help him get the money he needs. Lola’s already on her way, and he doesn’t much believe she can really help anyway, though she’s promised she’ll find a way somehow. A Blind Woman stands outside the phone booth. We’ve seen her in the two preceding acts, sometimes in odd places that made Lola or Manni do a split-second double-take.
Manni hands her the phone card he’s borrowed to make his calls, thanks her. She grabs him by the wrist. Wait, she says. Puzzled, Manni waits. As he waits, he sees the homeless man, Norbert, from the train going past on a bicycle (a stolen bicycle bought from a Young Man Lola encountered earlier). Norbert has the plastic bag containing the money that Manni left behind on the train. Manni runs after Norbert, and finally catches up with him, telling him the plastic bag in the bicycle basket is his, and Norbert acknowledges that it is. Manni takes it and Norbert says, “What about me? At least give me that,” indicating the gun Manni just held on him to get him to stop. Manni hesitates, looks at him sideways. He then haltingly gives Norbert the gun.
A pause here to acknowledge that for a long time I thought this was irrefutable proof that Manni had no sense whatsoever, and, like Clyde from Bonnie and Clyde, would never change. Now, though, upon further reflection, is this Manni’s own way of relinquishing control? An act of faith? He wanted the money back; he has it. The gun caused him and Lola nothing but grief, and whether it brings Norbert, or someone else grief as well, or maybe some money at the local pawn shop, is not Manni’s to decide. Manni leaves the guy with something, has the temerity to believe Norbert won’t shoot him and take the money back. This is Manni’s last bet on the roulette wheel. Unlike before, he doesn’t try to control the overall outcome, he just trusts that regaining possession of the money will ensure somehow that order is restored and he will get away with his life, because, after all, this was never his own money to begin with. He delivers it to Ronni.
As Lola rushes headlong to reunite with Manni and give him the money she’s won, her path intercepts with that of a red ambulance she’s encountered already in the previous two acts. She gets in, asking for a ride and is shocked to see Herr Schuster as he appears to be having or about to have a heart attack. The Medic tries to stabilize him. Lola has had a complicated relationship with Schuster from the beginning. At first he seems to enjoy teasing her, maybe even flirting with her, but as he walks outside to smoke a cigarette at the beginning of the third act while Lola calls to her father who’s driving off, he greets her with the cryptic remark, “So, my dear, you’ve come at last.” She looks at him hard without comment (is he her father?), then is on the run again. Now, in the ambulance, she takes his hand with utmost compassion. He eventually becomes stable, his breathing steady, much to the amazement of the Medic. Is Lola, having gone through all her trials, tribulations, and finally a triumph to save someone else now imbued her with special powers? Enlightened? She may have never reached out to this man before but now in doing so seems to bring calmness and healing to them both.
Manni and Lola, both having been transformed by their experiences, reunite, richer, literally and figuratively by having become more giving, less controlling. Manni, unaware of all that Lola has been through, asks: “Did you run here?” In all the myriad mystical connections made and missed in the world of this High Noon/ tyranny-of-time/ pressure cooker of a film, three things prevail: Love, faith, and compassion.