OBJECTIVE: Give Bill twenty bucks every month. Watch the foreign film he brings back without any subtitles. Figure out what the hell is going on.

RUN LOLA RUN (1998, Germany)

REMAINING CHANGE: Nein dollars and 48 cents. This movie was more costly than the rest. It better be good.

My last European trip was a disaster. That butchering of Bad Education was the worst massacre Europe has ever seen. The specter of my haunted past follows me this month to Germany, a pure land unsullied by historical black marks. I just hope that the errors of my past don’t sour krauts and–oops, I just learned that “kraut” is actually a very derogatory slang word for a German citizen. I am sorry to the good people of Germany, because nobody has brought worse insult to you than I just did; I just brought worst.

Or maybe this guy did. Just look at all that broken glass.

Run Lola Run is really, really fucking cool. If you haven’t seen this movie, go out and see it. There is no excuse for not seeing it. Don’t be a bunch of not-sees. Run Lola Run takes us through a harrowing twenty-minute run through town, and it replays the journey twice more with subtle differences that create staggering alternate timelines. This movie is like a breezier and more enjoyable Donnie Darko, or The Butterfly Effect if Hollywood burnt Ashton Kutcher to death instead of making The Butterfly Effect. Is this Chaos Theory in action? I dunno, I’m not a shitty scientist.

The movie opens with Lola talking to her boyfriend, Manni, on the telephone. Manni, like his bleached hair and impossibly deep unbuttoned V-neck suggest, isn’t a spectacularly capable person. In fact, I’d go as far to say that Manni is sort of a fuck up. One subtle indication of Manni’s incompetence is that he collided with a homeless person on a train and accidentally left a bag full of money that was supposed to go back to his boss after an illegal diamond trade. Even more indicative of being an abject failure, he’s making important calls on a pay phone.

“Collect call from: Manni Ilostthousandsofdollarsincashthatbelongedtomycrimeboss.”

Manni tells Lola about the pickle he’s in and let’s her know that he’s going to rob a grocery market in twenty minutes at noon. Lola looks at the clock and figures that’s about the exact amount of time she needs to run to Manni and tell him in person how fucking stupid his plan is. She hangs up her red phone, which is the repeated starting line for our run through quantum theory alternate universe bullshit stuff. I don’t know the German word for “round” but, using my amazing powers of deduction and incredible historical knowledge, I have identified the word “reich” as a good proxy.

How’s a smoker like her going to run anywhere?

First Reich
Lola gets off to a good start heading down the stairs out of her apartment. She runs past a woman walking her baby in a stroller and then the coolest thing this movie does happens: the lady’s subsequent life is laid out in a fast series of snapshots. The woman ends up being a poor mother who can’t support her children, they’re taken away, and she winds up stealing somebody else’s baby. Lola keeps running past a man on a bicycle (ends up in a happy marriage after he’s mugged) and a car that nearly hits her, which then rolls slowly into the street and hits a car carrying the crime boss. She rounds the corner and runs past the homeless guy with the money, and makes it to the bank, where her father is some corporate fat cat. She begs him for money but he ushers her down the hall and outside. It seems like he was frank further than necessary; I think we’re supposed to take this as a sign that he doesn’t love his daughter enough, but I think it’s just a sign that Lola doesn’t understand banking.

“I’m sorry, honey, but Daddy can’t embezzle thousands of dollars for you.”

Lola, upset that her dad won’t dip into the vault to loan her a criminal amount of money, runs alongside an ambulance that stops just short of a group of men carrying a pane of glass (classic gag) and makes it to the phone booth just in time to find Manni already robbing the grocery store. Being a good girlfriend, Lola helps Manni during the robbery, runs outside with him into alley where they’re surrounded by cops, and…

So much for all that exercise.

Blown away by a cop. Everything goes red, she’s taken back to a time when she’s lying in bed with Manni, and then cut to the phone dropping.

Second Reich
Lola dashes down the stairs and gets tripped by an asshole. Bad start. She limps outside and keeps running. Why is Lola doing all this running around town when Germany has a notorious history of mass transit? She passes Baby Snatcher, whose snapshots now reveal she’s a lottery winner and good mother, and Bike Guy, whose happy marriage is replaced with a death alone as a heroin junkie. It’s clear that Lola is running a bit behind schedule from the last time. She makes it to dad’s office in time to witness him arguing with his lover, then she steals a gun from a guard and robs the bank like a badass.

Really, she’s a terrible daughter.

Lola gets her money, jets out of there in time to see the ambulance hit the pane of glass the group of men are carrying across the street, and she gets to the grocery store in time to yell out Manni’s name and stop him! Manni and Lola walk toward each other, Lola carrying the money and…

In theory, an ambulance is the best vehicle to obliterate you in a crosswalk.

Third Reich
Third time’s a charm, baby. Down the stairs, jump past the guy and his dog. Boom. Baby Snatcher Lotto Winner? Born again Christian now. Bike Guy? She’s so ahead of schedule she veers him off course and he ends up pulling into a shop for a blood sausage. While he’s there, he happens to meet a homeless guy who offers to buy his bike. Lola runs past that car who keeps almost hitting her, and it softly hits her. Turns out she knows the guy–isn’t the universe funny like that, sometimes? Their brief back-and-forth while she’s on the hood of the car takes long enough that the crime boss’s car rolls by unobstructed. Lola gets to the bank too late, just in time to see her dad getting into the car with the guy who just funnily hit her. Meanwhile, Manni sees a homeless man on a bike carrying his thousands of dollars, and he chases after him like an idiot. They go into an intersection and cause a collision between the car carrying Lola’s dad and… of course the boss’s car. Fate is just Zurichberg Insurance Company, or some shit.

This is how Fate denies coverage.

Manni ends up catching the homeless guy and trades him his gun for all the money. Inexplicably, that transaction goes perfectly well. Even more inexplicably, Lola goes to a casino and wins enough money in five minutes of playing roulette to cover Manni’s train kerfuffle (a shockingly not German word). Instead of running alongside the ambulance, Lola hops into the back to find the guy who’s been nearly killing her with his car, saves his life through the magic of hand-holding, then hops out at the grocery store because she gets to do whatever she wants and ambulances can be taxis. Manni pulls around the corner inside the boss’s shiny black car, he’s let out and everything is cool again because he gave them the money, and then Lola and Manni walk away together with all kinds of money of their own and neither of them die.

Hooray! A happy ending for everybody! Except for the woman who could have won the lottery, and we don’t see the Bike Guy’s fate the third time so I guess that means he’s going to die a heroin junkie. Oh, and the homeless guy loses his money and is probably going to kill himself with that gun. And maybe Lola’s dad died in that accident? Is there a German psychological word for the feeling you get when things seem like they went well until a cursory second-look reveals that the sum whole has suffered a worse fate?


There are three points of confusion: First, Lola sometimes screams so loudly that she shatters glass. She does it while she’s gambling and ends up winning, so is she some kind of telepathic Siren? Second, Lola seemed to be running well ahead of schedule in the third attempt, but she ends up getting hit by that car, which means she lost time somewhere and I just can’t find where. Finally, right before Lola’s first run, the guy who runs the roulette wheel appears in cartoon form to get this whole thing kicked off. Did the movie just tell us how this thing is going to end and I missed it?

The second most punchable German.

This was fantastic. The music and camerawork really do a great job keeping the running scenes from getting tiresome. This movie could have easily fallen into the realm of gimmicky, but it never does. Watch it and notice the cool little nuances throughout her runs, like how cars and people are in slightly different spots on screen depending on how far ahead or behind she’s running. I didn’t give a shit about Manni, though, so this movie could have ended after her second run.

And now, Cinemanaut Bill ranks James on his ability to comprehend the film.

  • Nailed it: Well, well, well, James aced this thing with flying colors, and it’s no surprise. I think his successful grasp of the entire plot without the aid of any subtitles suggests that Run Lola Run is so popular because it’s a primarily visual action-packed thrill ride that transcends language barriers (kind of like Samurai Princess, minus being an unbearable robot rapefest that made James question our friendship). Hell, James went more in depth on whether or not the different timelines check out than I did for a separate article, and I am specifically this website’s Obsessed With Time Travel-y Shit Guy. And again, he did it all without any decipherable dialogue. Nice work, James, and nice work, movie.
  • Failed it: Only his recall of German history. But honestly, anything he didn’t understand, neither did I. Nor could I be bothered to care while being blasted with ’90s coolness and Eurodance beats.
  • Improved it: I’m with James, Manni’s a chode. Either they break up or Lola holds this over his head forever (probably to get out of cleaning the living room).


James S. is a member of the Portland Comedy Co-op and doesn’t really use Twitter.