*. We start off with a bunch of blather. There’s a quote from T. S. Eliot and then another from a German football (soccer) coach. I think Tom Tykwer meant this as a joke. Then we transition into a long, meandering voiceover: “Man . . . probably the most mysterious species on our planet. A mystery of unanswered questions. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? How do we know what we think we know? Why do we believe anything at all? Countless questions in search of an answer . . . an answer that will give rise to a new question . . . and the next answer will give rise to the next question and so on. But, in the end, isn’t it always the same question? And always the same answer?” I don’t think means anything at all, and it’s followed by another bit of wisdom from the soccer coach.
*. After that we’re off and running, but there’s something about these epigraphs that wrong-foots the movie for me. It’s all just blowing smoke. Nothing in the movie can bear the weight of so much philosophizing.
*. Here’s the problem: Yes, this is a clever, fast-paced movie. The concept isn’t entirely original or unique (Blind Chance seems to have been the model, and Sliding Doors came out the same year), and the flashy presentation isn’t groundbreaking (Danny Boyle had already done Shallow Grave and Trainspotting before this), but it still seemed pretty fresh at the time. The filmmakers of the MTV generation had come of age by the late ’90s and we were conceiving of movies from beginning to end as ninety-minute music videos: frantic cutting, jumpy camerawork, odd angles, skipping between film and video, colour and black-and-white . . . everything was getting thrown on the screen without giving the audience any time to think.
*. Because if they did have time to think — for example, about those philosophical epigraphs — what sort of conclusions would they draw? If they recognized the nod to Vertigo in the painting in the casino, what would it signify to them? Anything?
*. It’s the sort of movie that requires you to watch it again to discover everything you missed the first time through, but what do you really find out? What is this movie about?
*. As an example, take the image of the spiral. It shows up as a motif several times in the film and is even evoked in the way the camera is always circling the characters. But the action in no way imitates a spiral. The multiverse is not circular, but rather consists of an infinite number of diverging threads. So a spiral shape or movement has no thematic significance.
*. But then the movie isn’t even clear on whether we are being presented with totally distinct timelines (the multiverse) or a Groundhog Day-like situation where Lola is reliving the same events over and over. In so far as there is any critical consensus it’s that the different sections of the story represent totally separate threads that begin to diverge on the staircase. But there are also hints at some connection between the different threads, most notably in Lola’s release of the safety on the pistol in the second section after Manni has told her how to in the first, and her jumping over the dog and man in the stairwell in the final section. For what it may be worth, on his DVD commentary Tykwer says that he wanted the film to “feel” like it was one story with the character of Lola being constant. Whatever that means. I think it’s simply left up in the air as to what is going on.
*. Using either way of looking at things, how does Lola know to go into the casino and bet everything on 20 twice? Or is she just playing a hunch?
*. My own feeling is that the idea is more of a stunt like the end of The French Lieutenant’s Woman (the novel, that is), where the author/director just turns time back and runs through events again starting from a certain point.
*. People who can run forever in movies without getting tired are a pet peeve of mine. It’s a cliché, as well as unrealistic. I remember one movie a while back where a cop chased after a guy for a relatively short distance and after catching him and taking him down promptly vomited over his back. Now that was realistic. How the hell Lola (who we know is a smoker too) runs flat out for so long without getting sweaty or even short of breath is ridiculous.
*. I also don’t see how the time scheme makes sense. Apparently there’s no way Lola could have run through all the actual Berlin locations we see in the time allotted, but I’m fine with that since I’ve never visited Berlin and I wouldn’t know. But I don’t see how she could come even remotely close to doing all the things she does in twenty minutes even if she had a teleporter and didn’t have to run all over the place. It seems to me as though she’s doing around an hour’s worth of stuff, especially in the second section. Surely she’s in the bank for more than twenty minutes.
*. Why is the green garbage bag full of money flying through the air at the end of the second section?
*. Even on repeated viewings it’s easy to miss a lot of stuff. I think it’s just because they didn’t do a good enough job setting things up. The most significant example is the security guard who has a heart attack. I didn’t recognize the security guard as the man in the ambulance at the end (and according to Tykwer many people don’t). Nor is this very clear on repeated viewings. Really, unless you’re listening to the commentary it’s almost impossible to pick up on it. The only cues are very subtle: he raises his hands to his chest when Lola points a gun at him and you hear his (or someone’s) heart beating in a scene where he’s talking to her. We’re supposed to tell from this that he’s about to have a heart attack?
*. Another example is the way the guy who steals Lola’s bike at the beginning is involved in the crash at the end of the final story. Again, unless someone points this out to you I don’t think there’s any way you’d notice it on a first or even a second or third viewing.
*. Why does Manni give the derelict his gun? And what was he going to do with it? Apparently Tykwer had something in mind because he thought he’d like to explore this further in a sequel, but whatever the point was has now been lost.
*. It’s a decent flick, though it (deliberately?) drags a bit at the end. A lot hinges on us buying the intimate connection between the hopeless putz Manni and the now iconic Lola, and they do play very well together. They’re really one of the most charming movie couples I can think of from this period. Aside from that though, this is a puzzle film without a solution and a thought experiment you don’t want to spend much time thinking about. It’s a fun run, but clearly not going anywhere.