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Is Run Lola Run the Best Example of Postmodern Cinema?

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When asked to mention the best German films, most people will select Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt) from 1998. The film’s premise is simple. A woman (Lola – played by Franka Potente) must help her boyfriend Manni secure 100,000 Deutschmarks (the pre-Euro German currency) in twenty minutes. Despite the simplicity of the narrative, early moments suggest that we are watching something that subverts the norms of cinema. Indeed, Run, Lola Run is a postmodern masterpiece. But what makes it so?

A postmodern film is defined as one which subverts the traditional narrative and cinematic structures, presents characters that aren’t especially grounded in realism, and tests the audience’s sense of disbelief. From the moment Lola begins her quest to save Manni and somehow collect 100,000 marks, postmodernism is enacted. As she runs down her building’s staircase, the film changes from being live action to cartoon, depicting Lola in a tussle with a neighbor’s dog.

But the animated scene doesn’t just throw the audience for a loop with the way the narrative is presented. It also sets the precedent that the film won’t be linear. In fact, Run, Lola Run showcases three different versions of the 20 minutes she must secure the money. The film takes the quantum mechanics idea that every decision creates a new universe. So, as Lola decides how to handle the dog in the animated segment, we see the three different universes of what she does to try to save Manni and get the money.

The film is essentially split into three, showing each way Lola attempts to attain the money Manni needs. Each scenario is based on something Lola decides. For the first scenario, the audience is as clueless as Lola is. But by the third reset, after watching her fail twice, the audience is rooting for her. Despite being set in a world that bends conventions of our own, the audience is behind the heroine. The film was extremely well received not just commercially but critically and achieved cult status.

Run Lola Run was received so well because, unlike other action films and thrillers, she was never in a position of privilege. It always felt like the odds were stacked against her – because they were. But this made her likeable and the audience sympathetic to her struggles. Imagining ourselves in the same situation, we would probably make some of the same decisions that Lola made. Take her decision to try to win the money by playing roulette, for example.

But the film also uses elements of postmodernism by subverting the conventions of reality. In the roulette scene, Lola plays with 100 marks by betting on the single number 20. She wins. According to a rundown of the rules of roulette, the likelihood of winning with a single bet is slim, but the payout is higher. With 37 pockets, the house edge for the European roulette that Lola played would be 2.7%. With 37 pockets, this means there is a one in 37 chance of winning.

Not only does Lola win on the number 20 once, but she does so twice. To win the second time, she screams incredibly loudly, shattering glasses, and almost willing the ball to land on her number. Thus, by flexing the realms of realism, Lola is able to win. The ending – which you’ll have to watch yourselves – also subverts realism. But after the rollercoaster of events, it almost feels like a relief.

Run Lola Run is one of the best examples of a postmodern film. It takes a very simple premise but throws convention-busting events at the audience. It sometimes feels like the director, Tom Tykwer, is testing the audience to see how much they can accept. This is the epitome of a postmodern film.

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