By Thom Holbrook
When I was in High School, no matter what book we were reading, my English teacher was sure to read all sorts of symbolism into the thing that seemed utterly absurd and always end up with somebody being a Christ figure. If you had to utterly guess at the answer to a question, your best bet was to shout out "Christ figure!" More often than not I would feel that the images and illusions in the story she was using as proof were just coincidental and there by happenstance - not intended in any way shape or form to invoke any sort of deeper Christian symbolism.
Which means I feel really weird writing this thing because I am about to ascribe tons of underlying symbolism to what most people see as a lark of a film - a piece of fast moving bubble gum pop culture with no deep meaning. But I can't help it! Whether its there intentionally or not I see the images in it and I just can't help it. So blame my English teacher. She drove me to this madness.
The film I am getting all worked up over is a German import called "Run, Lola, Run". Now if you haven't seen the film you might say, "Well it's a foreign film. Of course it's got deeper meaning to it. I mean if it's foreign and you gotta subtitle it, it must be packed with meaning. And it must be confusing and boring."
Au contraire. The film is anything but boring. If you haven't seen it, go watch it right now. We'll wait... Okay for the lazy cynical bastards out there who refuse to give it a shot till they here something about it here's a quick breakdown. Lola is a girl with bright dyed red hair. At the start of the film she was supposed to pick up her boyfriend after he concluded a shady deal for a shady character. But Lola had her moped stolen, the cab she took drove the wrong way and she never got there. As a result her boyfriend took the subway. He was carrying a bag of money with him that he was supposed to deliver back to shady character. Only he accidentally left it on the subway where a bum picked it up and ran off with it. Now he has 20 minutes to come up with the 100,000 marks to deliver to his boss or he is a dead man. Literally the guy will KILL him. For those not familiar with foreign currency, that's a lot of money! Lola tells him to wait and not do anything. She will find a way to fix things. Her boyfriend only half agrees. He will wait for her. But if after 20 minutes she doesn't show up with the cash, he is going to rob the grocery store near the phone booth he is calling from to get the cash. Hey, the dude's life is on the line.
Next Lola flashes through all the people who might be able to help her. Their faces flash by as if flipping by on a roulette wheel, eventually slowing and stopping on her father as the winner. As she takes off though, the image of her father shakes his head negatively.
And so Lola starts running. She runs to her father for help then runs to her boyfriend. Her mission fails tragically and then, without explanation, Lola is returned to the starting point of the story to try again. In all, like a video game character, Lola is given three lives, three chances to complete her objective. Each run has similar elements. Starting as a cartoon, Lola has to contend with a nasty guy and his dog on the stairs of her building. Then, back to live action, Lola runs down the street bumping rudely into a woman pushing a baby carriage. She meets up with a guy on a bike while also running into a group of nuns walking in the opposite direction. She unknowingly runs right past the bum who has the money. She keeps nearly being hit by a car pulling out of a side street, coming out unharmed but always distracting him into running into another car full of angry toughs. She runs to her father's bank, has an encounter of some sort with the security guard, has some sort of encounter with her father and then, regardless of the outcome runs on to meet her boyfriend. On this leg of the trip, she runs alongside an ambulance which each time nearly or does have an accident with a large piece of glass being hefted across the street. Then its on to see her boyfriend and try to keep him from robbing the store. The entire thing is done with fast cutting and to a driving soundtrack. Also along the way, whenever Lola runs into someone, we are shown in a quick photo montage what ended up happening to that character afterwards... in this run.
So where is the deep religious symbolism? Well for that you have to take a more precise look at each individual run. I think each run stands for a different level of religious and mental maturity. The runs can appropriately be labeled as, respectively, The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit. Now don't read too much into that. Aside from the nice religious reference, we aren't talking about the three facets of God.
The first run is The Father run. In this run Lola is like a kid. In terms of solving her problem she is not really in control. As close as she has to a plan is for her dad to fix things (thus The Father run). The run starts with her hitting the mean guy on the stairs and his dog. This guy is basically the devil. So it sort of makes sense he is a cartoon. The devil isn't a person. From our view he is an abstract not quite realistic entity. In The Father run, Lola lets this guy scare her and throw her off thus affecting the rest of her entire run in the same way fear and trepidation over what bad things the devil might have in store for any of us puts a spin on how we behave. The bottom line though is that by even considering the devil and letting him affect us with childlike fear, we have already let him have his influence. Lola runs on.
She bumps into the lady with her baby, pissing her off. We see this woman's future in a flash forward. Her children are taken from her and her life slowly falls apart. How much of this is Lola's influence? Not just the bump but all further actions she will take, each run being different. I think the message is that everything we do affects everyone else in minute ways that end up to a lot. With Lola, or us, running through life weak and afraid of what evil is in store for us, being immature and wanting daddy to fix things for us, that influence is very negative and leads to bad things.
Lola runs into a group of nuns as the bike rider shows up. The nuns are walking side by side in two rows and Lola runs right down the middle of them. It shows a disregard or lack of awareness on Lola's part as she basically violates this religious grouping. The biker tries to sell Lola his bike and she refuses. Flash forward to the biker being badly beaten over the bike which he has stolen, meeting a nurse at the hospital and marrying her. In this run where Lola lets fear run her life and wants others to shoulder responsibility, the thief, unrepentant sinner ends up the winner in the end. We see Lola run just in front of the car pulling out of the side street. The driver is surprised and distracted stares after her, running into a passing car as a result. We see Lola's father at his office talking with a coworker who is his mistress. She tells him she is pregnant and asks if he will leave his wife and kids for her? He agrees. Next Lola runs past the bum. Just some nice irony there.
Lola runs into the bank. The guard treats her with smirking derision. He lets Lola in to see her dad. Lola bumps into a woman in the hall and we see that she will be in a horrible accident and die. Lola begs her father for help, for the 100,000. He refuses, telling her to go home. He rudely walks her out telling her he will be leaving her and her mother. He tells Lola he is tired of basically being the problem solver and getting crapped on the rest of the time. This is also a flaw of leaving problems to be solved be solved by others, by "daddy" - you are relying on them to be trustworthy when they may not be. Or may be tired of being leaned on to the point they become annoyed. He also tells Lola that he is not her father, that Lola's mom was pregnant when he came on the scene. He says this hurtful thing right in front of the security guard. I think Lola is sort of both a sort of Christ figure and more than that a symbol for Christians, children of God in general, trying to get things right. The first big bit of the Christ imagery comes right here - she has no known biological father. The guard I see as sort of the population of the world in general, Christian or not. Each time they meet, his attitude towards Lola is different depending on the context of their meeting. At first he was cruel, but seeing Lola so abused he takes a more sympathetic stance with her. He can't fix the problems in her life but only offer a sympathetic comment.
Lola takes off again to, at the very least, stop Manny from making the mistake of robbing the store. As she runs, she ends up running alongside an ambulance with its sirens blaring. She ignores it. At the end of the street, the ambulance nearly runs into a sheet of glass being carried across but stops just in time as Lola keeps going. I'll skip on going into the ambulance until the Son Run.
She arrives seconds too late. Manny has started the robbery. Lola decides to help him since the die is already cast. Again, she is not in control. She is merely following Manny's lead. She can't even control the gun she is given, nearly killing a hostage as she figures out how to use the safety. The cash is loaded into a red bag and Lola and Manny take off. They are quickly surrounded by the police. Manny hurls the bag into the air. One of the officers watching the bag's flight accidentally pulls the trigger, shooting Lola through the chest and killing her. More Christ/Christian symbolism my friend. Lola is basically an innocent although not sin free. She is any of us as Christ. Yes she helped with the robbery but it wasn't her idea. Her motives were all pure - she was trying desperately to help her boyfriend out of not a single but a double set of bad situations. And the end result is that she was killed for his sins. And again she is killed due to someone child-like in their fear and lack of full self control or assuredness.
She flashes back as she dies to a conversation with Manny where she asks him why he picked her as his girlfriend. In the end the answer is that in his heart he felt she was the perfect girl for him - she's the best. The scene speaks of Manny having a pure faith in her being the correct choice. With Lola as a Christlike figure it has intonations of his having faith and knowing by faith alone that his choice of who he trust himself and his soul to is correct.
Back in the real word, Lola sees the red bag somehow still falling and says "stop". Now each run has its own bag of money and it is always a different color. The bag being red in this run I think is directly tied to the word "stop". It sums up Lola's actions. She is not running things in this go round. Even though she runs around and takes action, in terms of controlling events she is at a stand still. The only action she takes are as reactions to things happening around her, asking others to do something for her or doing what she is told. In terms of spiritual maturity in dealing with the world she is still a child frightened to move and the results throughout this run show the negative effects this way of living has on the world.
When Lola says "stop" though, the game resets and we are back at the start of the run. Lola is back in her apartment, resurrected from death to run and try again. As the run proceeds we will see that it is not as if the first run never happened. The director of the film himself says that somehow Lola does in some way remember the failed runs.
This is The Son run. By son I mean the child. Where in the first run Lola wanted to have her father and other people to fix things, this is the run where the child, Lola takes control. She is an assertive force trying to control the way fate runs this time.
Right off the bat she is in trouble. She reaches the guy on the stairs and he trips Lola. She tumbles head over heels down the stair in a bad fall. Its a clear pride goeth before the fall message here. Lola is so sure and confidant of herself that she runs right at devil boy without thinking and he easily trips her up and, as a result, he again affects the timing of all the rest of her run. Don't let the devil scare you but don't dismiss and ignore him either.
Lola again runs into the lady and her baby. Again the lady curses her out. This time in the flash forward we see that she becomes a lotto winner, gaining great physical wealth and prosperity. This is in line with Lola's influence. In a world where Lola, or us, is assertive and takes the driver's wheel there is greater chance for us to gain worldly wealth.
Again we hit the nuns and the biker. Again Lola runs through the nuns with no respect. The biker tries again to sell her the bike. Lola tells him no, it's stolen, implying that Lola even is somehow aware of the flash forwards we have seen. Flash forward to the biker's life again. This time he is not beaten for his bike. As a result he doesn't meet his wife and he actually ends up ruined. If people are proactive like Lola is in this run, the world might not be perfect but unrepentant sinners reap what they sow. Since she has been slowed down by the fall, this time the car from the side street actually pulls out in front of Lola and she has to leap up and run across its hood. Again, the driver is distracted and gets in the smash up. Again we see Lola's dad and his mistress. This time the mistress goes a step further in their conversation, telling Lola's dad that the child is not his and asking if he still wants to be with her and raise it. We of course already know that's going to be a sore point for dad. Would this have happened though if Lola hadn't tripped at the start? Might she have gotten there before this revelation like before? Back to Lola. Again, Lola also runs past the bum, bumping into him this time.
Lola reaches the bank. Again some snippy comments from the guard. Lola is let in and finds his father in a heated fight with his mistress. The now proactive and in control Lola gets into the fight, trying to get help from her father and actively cursing out the mistress for what she is. This is not the Lola who could be escorted like a child out of the building. She is so confrontational that her father smacks her. He of course still refuses to help. Lola storms out on her own. As she passes the guard, the guard makes some comment about it not being her day, a sort of balance between snideness and sympathy. It give Lola a moment to think. This is where she gets WAY in control. Lola grabs the guard's gun, goes back to her father and using him as a hostage robs the bank, making him make everyone else cooperate. Again accentuating Lola's control and her memory of the last run, Lola now knows full well how to operate a gun. Again Lola passes the woman in the bank's hall. Last flash forward she died in an accident. In this flash forward we see her hooking up with another employee. We see them not only doing normal couple stuff but get quick flashes of kinkier fair. In other words, they have happiness but very worldly happiness.
As Lola waits for her money, the guard appeals to her not to make this terrible mistake. Lola fixes him with a stare and the guard, sweating lightly clutches at his chest. Again, all he can offer in terms of help is words, this time in the form of ignored advice. Lola is in charge. She knows what she's doing. Lola is given the money this time in a green trash bag. It being green has many meanings. Her traffic light this time is on go. Lola is in control and driving fate this time, not standing still. It also means money and by extension all worldly goods and happiness. The fact that the symbol for worldly happiness is also a garbage bag shows what in the end these things are worth.
Money in hand, she runs for the front door. Before going outside, something inspires Lola to throw her gun away. Random chance or is there actually someone else guiding fate rather than just Lola, influencing her at a critical moment even though she is unaware of it? Lola runs out of the bank to find herself surrounded by the police. Unlike in the confrontation after the store robbery, she has no gun and so the police, believing her an innocent bystander push her away. She takes off to stop Manny.
Again, as Lola runs, she ends up running alongside an ambulance with its sirens blaring. She doesn't ignores it this time though. She yells out to the driver to give her a ride. Lola is centered on herself and the importance of her situation, not even thinking of the poor soul inside the ambulance. The driver refuses. He like Lola is controlling his own destiny and so his actions are only determined by his own self motivated agenda. And the only result of Lola's also self motivated interference is that the driver fails to break and drives through the sheet of glass. The result is now Lola has negatively affected the driver's "run" just like the guy on the stairs did Lola's. She has in her self absorption become an agent for chaos just like the cartoon guy. Not only that, this film stresses how our, Lola's, actions all have consequences and we will see that this action is no exception.
Lola runs to stop Manny from robbing the store. This time she catches him. He hears her from a distance, turns and heads her way without robbing the store only to be run down by the same ambulance Lola ran alongside earlier. Because of both their earlier self concerned actions, the driver was thrown both off schedule so that he was hurrying and off his game mentally so that he again was not paying attention. The result is that with everyone only thinking about what they needed, someone else ended up paying with his life.
Now we see Manny having a death bed flash back. He remembers talking to Lola about what she would do if he died or wasn't around. She refuses to think about it and states she would never let him die - she would save him no matter how impossible. If Lola's death bed remembrance was about having faith and commitment to Christ, this one speaks of Christ's commitment to the individual. Serving as a Christ figure, Lola swears the to do the impossible if needed to save Manny. As we come back to the real world, that is just what Lola somehow does.
As the green bag drops out of her hand, again the world is somehow reset and as a result Manny is, in effect brought back from the dead. Now we start the Holy Spirit Run. In the first run, Lola placed control of her fate in the hands of others, more specifically her father and that went to pot. In the Son Run she brashly tried to take total control of her destiny and that went equally awry. In the Holy Spirit run, Lola places control of her life in the hands of God. Why shouldn't she have some faith by this point? She's seen herself and her boyfriend brought back from death for crying out loud.
So Lola heads for the guy and his dog on the stairs. Lola leaps right over them (leap of faith?). The dog barks at her and she without fear barks back! Lola knows evil and the devil are out there. She is aware of them but not afraid of them. With her destiny in God's hands, they can't affect the run of her life.
Lola hits the street and this time avoids running into the lady with the baby. No harm done, no cursing. We see a flash forward for the lady and see her joining a church and taking communion. On first viewing this might seem sort of "so what" but the fact is she has gone from ruin in the first "let someone else solve everything" run to passing temporary material happiness in the second "out for my own self" run to ultimate salvation and happiness in the final "God help me run".
Lola reaches the nuns and the biker. This time Lola respectfully avoids running through the nuns instead darting out in front of the biker who is so mad he doesn't even offer her his bike. No flashes forward for him. Whatever his fate, it is now in his own hands. We follow him to a fast food joint though where we see him now sell his bike to the bum who has Manny's bag of money. Now comes the car from the side street. This time the car does hit Lola but only lightly. She rolls on the hood and sees for the first time the driver is her dad's friend who, from a bit of dialogue in the first run, we know is going to the bank to pick him up. Lola's brief encounter with him stops him from getting in the accident and thus keeps him on schedule to meet Lola's dad. Since the bum is now riding a bike off on a new tangent, Lola does not pass him at all this time. Instead Manny ends up spotting him and giving chase. Back to Lola's dad and his mistress. Things are going much as the last time around. The mistress is just reaching the point of telling Lola's dad that the child is not his when the intercom beeps and announces that Dad's friend has arrived and is waiting for him. He leaves without being told. He and his friend start to leave just as Lola arrives. The race in this run isn't to reach Manny in time at the end but here, with Lola trying to reach Dad before he drives away. She fails and he drives off.
"What sort of faith in God thing is this?" you might ask, considering that Lola's actions have totally kept her from reaching her dad. Ah, but the point is to trust in God's plan and that even though short term things might look bad, maybe there is more going on.
Lola has a word with the bank guard this time as he steps outside for a smoke. He calls her his angel and she hits him with a long silent look before running on. Again, we don't see the future of the woman in the bank because Lola never goes in. Her fate is in her own hands as well.
Lola now has no idea of where to get the money she needs. She prays to God as she runs for help. She is brought out of her reverie when she is nearly hit by a truck. The truck has blue sort of wing shaped patterns on its front - sort of an angelic truck I guess. God may work in mysterious ways but sometimes in getting your attention he's as subtle as a mac truck. She looks up and sees that she is in front of a casino. She runs inside.
Inside the casino, she is just short of having enough money for a single hundred mark chip. She asks please and the cashier spots her the 80 cents she is short. Lola goes to the roulette wheel and bets on 20. She wins. She bets the winnings on 20 again and again hits. Gambling and faith in God might not seem a likely match but it does work. This was not about trying to win money for herself, not about personal gain but about getting what she needed, cash, to save Manny's life. And roulette is the one form of gambling that is not about skill or personal ability at all. Its all about pure chance, about putting down some money on a number with the hope and faith it will win. And to bet the same number twice in a row with utter confidence showed total faith on Lola's part.
Lola is given her money this time in a golden bag. Gold is the final color on the traffic light to be dealt with and it of course means move ahead with caution. Appropriate. Lola isn't sitting still letting other drive the world. She is in control of her life but smart enough to be careful and think about her behavior. And while she might be driving the boat, God controls the tides and currents she has to navigate. Gold is of course also the color associate with many things holy - golden halos for example.
Back to Manny. He catches the bum and takes the money from him at gun point (it was the only thing that worked in making the bum stop). In exchange for the money, Manny gives the gun to the bum. In this run and when Lola discards her gun in the second run, the giving up of the gun ends up being a positive sign for the character. A discarding of that sort of behavior and a step down the right path.
Lola meanwhile is back running with the ambulance. This time she just hops in the back and actually gets to see what is going on inside. We discover the passenger is actually the guard from the bank who has had a heart attack. The paramedic fights to stabilize him and is shocked to see Lola hop in. Lola takes the guard's hand in her own and somehow by being there with him stabilizes and saves him. Another Christlike miracle. She actually is his angel.
The ambulance drops Lola off at where she is supposed to meet Manny. She finds Manny already handing off the money and fine. He is blithely unaware of all Lola has gone through on or even of her runs but she is now a better person who is in control of her life while trusting in God's assistance. And as a result of her faith and positive behavior, she's even got the material wealth as well since Manny won't be needing her big bag of loot. Pays to believe in God my friends.