Some of the most effective artistic productions are those which can seamlessly integrate a commentary on their own particular medium into their narrative and aesthetic content, and Tom Tykwer's film Run Lola Run is prime example of this phenomenon. Though the film is eighty-one minutes long, the story only takes place over the course of twenty, but these twenty minutes are repeated in a series, with each retelling demonstrating how small actions culminate in dramatically different conclusions. Examining Run Lola Run with an eye towards the small details which result in these different conclusions reveals how the film challenges the viewer's assumptions regarding time, narrative consequences, and the nature of reality as it relates to the medium of film itself. Ultimately, Run Lola Run suggests that the experience of time and narrative is not based on the conceptualization of a single, unbroken thread, but rather temporal segments punctuated by moments of narrative flux where individual agency becomes most potent, and furthermore, that humans experience of reality depends on the ability to imagine the possible outcomes of the influence of individual agency on these points of flux.
Run Lola Run follows the titular character's progress as she attempts to help her boyfriend, Manni obtain 100,000 German marks, which he must deliver to his crime lord boss in twenty minutes or else be killed. The film opens with Lola receiving a panicked call from Manni, who has lost the original sack of money he was supposed to deliver after accidentally leaving it on a train (which he was forced to take because Lola's moped was stolen, thus making her unable to pick him up as planned). The next twenty minutes follows Lola as she attempts to obtain the money. Each twenty minute sequence begins with Lola hanging up the phone and running out of her apartment building, past a dog and its owner who are standing in the stairwell, and it is this interaction with the dog and its owner that marks the primary point of narrative flux in the film. In the first sequence, Lola speeds past the dog, in the second, the dog's owner trips her, which causes her to injure her ankle, and in the third, she leaps over both the dog and its owner.
For the viewer, this seemingly disjointed collection of three different possible versions of the story challenges traditional assumptions regarding filmic narrative by appearing "to deny any possibility of experiencing time as an extended, durable structure of experience," but at the same time it challenges the viewer's assumptions regarding film narratives, it actually serves to reveal a truth about time and narrative as actually experienced by human beings (Koepnick 8). In order to see why, one may "consider the counterfactuals we might spin in ordinary life," along the lines of thoughts like "if I had left the parking lot a minute or two later, I wouldn't have had the fender-bender that became such a nuisance to me for the next month" (Bordwell 90). These counterfactuals are not solely recollections, either; the process of determining one's next action is always dependent on imagining possible futures, and Run Lola Run uses the medium of film to demonstrate three possible futures. The human experience of time, and thus narrative, is not an experience of "an extended, durable structure," but rather a series of stable temporal sequences organized along points of theoretical possibility, and the film uses Lola's interactions with the dog and its owner to demonstrate this.
However, even as the film explores these possible contemporaneous futures, they are shown in a particular order which serves to create a meaning above and beyond the content of any given sequence. This is because the film does not merely attempt to represent the human experience of time and narrative as the imagining of potential futures, but also the process by which those potential futures are chosen by the individual. The film's introduction, which features two different epigrams related to games and play, helps to reveal this process by suggesting that "winning consists only of the continuation of play, and continuity necessitates a learning curve of losing first" (Bianco 379). In a way, "Lola must lose the first round of the game [and film] in…