Narrative Constructions in Tom Tykwer's Run, Lola, Run

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

11 Pages, Grade: A*


-Narrative Constructions in Tom Tykwer’s Run, Lola, Run

On the other hand, I believe that time itself can be ruled in films generally. You can just do everything you like. You can stretch time. Usually what film does is to tell a whole life in ninety minutes, or one week in ninety minutes.
So I thought it would be interesting, especially in Lola, to stretch time out and tell twenty minutes in one and a half hours and see what happens then. You stretch it out and suddenly you see all these little spaces in between, you can look into small channels in this stretched time period. Which allowed me to follow different lines of the story, to say „What’s this person doing by the way?“ or „What’s happening to that one?“? And then you just follow this life for a moment. I love the contradiction. You're only able to do this in movies because in real life it always has the same rhythm, a second stays a second, a minute stays a minute. We can't help it, we can't go back in time, unless we have the machine that Michael J. Fox has.

Tom Tykwer[1]

Run, Lola, Run by Tom Tykwer (1998) is a cinematically innovative film that departs in many ways from usual standards of narrative construction by using a wide range of filmmaking techniques. Although its unique graphic and audio representation as well as its plot technique confronts stereotypes that are produced by Hollywood, it can also be associated with principles of classical narrative form. In this paper I will discuss the complex structure and narrative of the movie as well as its extensive self-reflexivity by focusing on its different ramifications in art cinema, counter-cinema and classical Hollywood cinema.

In an interview on a Belgian film website David Bordwell argues that a lot of films which seem to be unusual and innovative are actually rooted in the spirit of classical cinema:

A movie like Lola Rennt for instance, which is very experimental in some ways, is in many ways also very traditional. Beginning-middle-end, she gets three chances, the last one is the right one, she looks at the audience in the end and acknowledges it's all been a game... I mean, this is very much in the spirit of classical cinema.[2]

Although this might be true, there certainly are devices in the film that can be aligned with art cinema. The categorization and analysis of Run, Lola, Run is a matter of how you define classical Hollywood cinema and of how much emphasis you put on the different characteristics that define the structure and the narrative of the film.

I want to start by using David Bordwell’s Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice to discuss how we might see Run, Lola, Run as an art film. The most obvious departure of Run, Lola, Run from traditional cinematic narration is the triple repetition of a single sequence of events. Thus, its overall narrative function does not proceed along a line parallel to the narrative stream. The beginning scenes of the movie contain several devices of art cinema. The pre credit sequence and the credit sequence establish a kind of “philosophical framework” that is separated from the actual narrative which means that there is no direct cause-effect linkage of the introductory scenes and the first episode. Furthermore, the establishing scene starting from a bird’s eye perspective of the city of Berlin positions the viewer directly into the main plot of the film without giving us any background information about the characters or the setting. Thus, already at the beginning of the movie Tykwer establishes a narrative which deconstructs cinematic space and time and at the same time challenges classical Hollywood cause-effect logic.

According to Bordwell, one principle that constitutes art cinema is its realism. As a matter of fact, Tom Tykwer stated that he “simply wanted a film that solidly supports reality.” With the small exception of the animated sequences Run, Lola, Run portrays a highly realistic subject matter with a real location and real characters. The impression of reality emerges from the fact that the real or actual time of each episode (about 23 minutes) is almost the same time that Lola has to save Manni. Thus, the notion of realism emerges to a lesser extent from the subjectivity of a character and its psychological effects but rather from a realistic relationship between actual time and narrated time. Nevertheless Tykwer provides us with psychological insight to Lola’s character and her motivations and thoughts by a subjectification of the camera from within her mind (running scene with the song “I wish” and close up on her face). Although there are some means that shed light on the character’s inner world I wouldn’t say that it accomplishes what Bordwell calls the “cinema of psychological effects.”[3] Another aspect of art cinema as stated by Bordwell is the sudden appearance and disappearance of minor characters that do not promote the story line but yet influence the outgoing of the different episodes. On her mission to rescue Manni, Lola encounters quite a number of people that seem not to belong to the actual story line, but that influence the outgoing of the different episodes. For example, when Lola bumps into Doris, the woman with the baby stroller, Tykwer uses an intercut montage of stills presenting Doris’s subsequent fate: losing her baby to social workers and kidnapping stranger’s baby afterward. In the second episode we see Doris’s subsequent fate which is winning in the lottery and moving with her husband to a large, luxurious house. Tykwer toys with these byplays and flash-forward scenes (a means that, according to Bordwell, is never used in Classical Hollywood cinema) that do not only interrupt the story line for a short moment, but that also have a completely different visuality.




[3] David Bordwell, The Art Cinema as a Form of Film Practice, in Braudy, Leo and Marshall Cohen, eds. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings (6th ed.). New York: Oxford UP, 2004. S.776

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Narrative Constructions in Tom Tykwer's Run, Lola, Run
Indiana University  (Communication and Culture)
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Constructions, Tykwer, Lola
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Simone Donecker (Author), 2005, Narrative Constructions in Tom Tykwer's Run, Lola, Run, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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