The title character in Run Lola Run lives underneath a fibrous growth that in shape resembles a neglected patch of lawn and in color brings to mind a fire engine–or maybe a fire engine crossed with one of those ’59 Fairlanes that flirted with pastel. This isn’t hair; it’s a flickering aura of free associations, which in itself may serve as emblem of Tom Tykwer’s much-praised new picture. Even should Lola pause in her running (and the whole point of the movie is to make sure she doesn’t), suggestions of wildness, speed, calamity and chic would continue to shoot forth from her head.
When first seen, in pop-off-the-screen close-up, Lola is as much at rest as she’s going to be–meaning she’s ajolt in her room at home, shouting down a telephone at her boyfriend, Manni. The big lug has just bungled his attempt to step up from petty crime to middling. Now, as we see through crosscuts, he’s twisting and sweating in a phone booth across town, like a sausage being squeezed in its skin. He’s called to inform Lola that he’s got exactly twenty minutes to restore a large sum of money to a gangster–and in his pocket is nothing, except a gun.
What’s a movie character to do? That’s the big question–because, even though this action takes place in Germany, Lola is most emphatically a creature of Cinemaland. Able to slip back and forth amid formats, Lola can exit a room and immediately reappear in it on TV, or change into a cartoon figure with Fairlane fire-engine hair, or shrink herself to accommodate the demands of a triple-split-screen effect, all while the robo-rock pulse of the soundtrack pounds louder and louder. In these circumstances, a movie character would run.
So off sprints Lola–the blunt-featured actress Franka Potente, in tank top and baggy slacks–pumping her arms, breathing hard, scooting past or bumping into a stock company’s worth of passers-by, all of whom dribble out brief streams of consciousness in her wake. Her immediate destination: the office of her bank-president father.
Knowing she has only minutes to prevent disaster, a character from outside Cinemaland might save time by using the telephone. (A receiver was already at hand.) But Lola runs toward the bank, for the same reason that she Truly Loves Manni, for the same reason that her destiny (temporarily) is to be Shot Through the Heart at High Noon. It’s cool to live in the movies.
Coolness, rather than love, conquers all in Run Lola Run. Coolness precedes love as its precondition and grants Lola power to make the movie turn out as she’d like. I will say no more, since it would be as heartless to reveal the structure of Tykwer’s film as the plot of another director’s. It’s enough to say that Lola dashes through the film like a punked-out Road Runner, pursued not by Wile E. Coyote but by an accident-prone Fate, whose assaults are as reversible as the workings of Acme products.
The popularity of the film–which has been making a triumphal progress through the world’s festivals and into its movie houses–reminds me that audiences, too, long to feel cool. Unfortunately, today’s films rarely include that pleasure in the price of a ticket. Perhaps the most notable recent picture to do so, whatever you thought of it, was Pulp Fiction, which came out five years ago. I believe that gap partly explains the laments of some critics about the demise of movie culture–laments that have been sighed, paradoxically, over the living bodies of any number of vital but less fashionable films. When the movie cult fails to offer vicarious coolness, it no longer recruits young acolytes or renews the dedication of elders who would like to feel young.