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The Music in ’Run Lola Run’ Is Still a Techno Rush to the Head

Every beat that pulses through Tom Tykwer's 1999 cult classic captures the breathless pace of big city life.

by Daisy Jones; illustrated by Esme Blegvad
Mar 7 2018, 5:11pm

Hi. This is a monthly column where I'll be writing about something I've been unhealthily obsessed with. It is basically a written accompaniment to this meme. But with more music. Thanks.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Run Lola Run begins like this, the sound of an analog clock moving in very quick succession. Soon, a droning bassline plays in the background, and the tick-tocks morph into a clanging, industrial techno track. Fleeting shadowy figures start to speed across the screen, as if you’re standing in the middle of a packed train station with your eyes half closed, each person with their head bent down, their faces anonymous. And then the action begins and you can barely breathe.

Each individual feels at their most comfortable within a different environment. And by environment, I mean everything; sound, space, speed, people and their various energies, the air that surrounds us, the smell of it, the taste. For me, personally, that environment has always been London. Some people hate it here for reasons I can understand. It’s expensive to the point of being almost uninhabitable. When the sky is grey it hangs low and washes over everything so you feel as if you’re wading through a bleak, George Bellows cityscape painting. You can hear the person in the flat above you pissing, power drills shake the pavements outside, emergency sirens and drunken screams float down the road and infiltrate your dreams. Pollution soaks into your skin and lungs, and the buildings are crammed into ugly little rows and stacks, or else they are imposing and business-like.

But there are beautiful things about inner city life too. If you’re prone to thinking too much or too loudly, London can keep up with it in a swell of slowly rotating kebab meat and late night trips to the off licence and neon-windowed night buses flying through the rain. The pace here is fast—that’s part of its appeal—and unless you’re particularly isolated, it can feel as if you are surrounded by people, places and possibilities from every angle. One moment you are on your mate’s ash-covered bed watching music videos on YouTube, the next you are darting behind buildings trying to find your Uber, the next you are in some dank toilet cubicle blearily hitting ‘send’ on a text. One weekend can stretch out into a million tiny universes. Time slows down and it fills you up. It’s a feeling that’s hard to pinpoint, and even harder to articulate, but it’s one that you might recognise (and which I feel immediately) while watching film Run Lola Run. It's magnified every time I hear the insane, explosive techno soundtrack that runs through it.

Run Lola Run was directed by Tom Tykwer and released in 1999, and even though I just went on about London for quite some time it’s actually set in Berlin. If you’ve never seen it, the plot is difficult to explain in just a few sentences, but it’s essentially a semi-supernatural thriller that follows a woman who needs to obtain 100,000 Deutsche Mark in 20 minutes to save her boyfriend's life. Really though, it’s a film about time, about all the choices that can fit within it, and as the title suggests, it also involves a lot of running. As such, the soundtrack—an original score by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil—is rhythmic, repetitive and adrenaline inducing. Where some films use music to add colour to a scene, this film uses it in a way that completely intertwines with the plot itself. After soaking up the ferocious electronic thumps of “The Running One,” for instance, it’s hard not to feel as though you’ve just been speeding through the city streets yourself.

This isn’t a brand new observation. Without getting too ‘A Level Film Studies’ about it, the Run Lola Run soundtrack has often been referred to as a stand-out moment for music and cinema for this exact reason. In Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema, writer Michael Wedel refers to these ideas too: “On one hand, ‘techno is a perfect, if obvious, choice’ because as dance music, ‘it immediately connotes high charged physical movement,’ with ‘[t]he film’s techno tracks [being] closely knit to it activity’,” he writes. “On the other hand, however, ‘unlike traditional tonal music, techno has no clear beginning, patterns of development, or resolution; unchanging and energetic, it is repetitive without standing still’.” In other words, the techno soundtrack feels like time and energy itself. With its crazed beats and circular structure, the whole thing sounds like heartbeats, clocks, breaths, sweat. It’s overwhelming.

One of the weirdest things about the Run Lola Run soundtrack, though, is that it literally doesn’t stop. There might be a few brief moments here and there in which the music fades—some dialogue that requires your full attention, a micro pause between songs—but in general, the music is relentless, like an extended music video. “Running One” bleeds into “Supermarket” bleeds into “Running Two” bleeds into “Running Three,” all the while Lola’s feet barely hit the ground, her body pivoting around the grey grid of concrete, navigating each human presence she comes into contact with in the process. Which makes sense, to me, because that’s what life can feel like in the city. Have you ever taken a train from a rural, grassy area towards the dark swell of buildings, and as it approached, felt a tangible shift in the energy around you? And then as soon as your feet hit the platform, felt a surge propelling you towards activity, and then just not stopped? Whether you know what I’m on about or not, the music in Run Lola Run somehow manages to find this energy and capture it.

It’s been nearly two decades since this film came out to widespread critical acclaim. In that time, the world has changed into something completely different. Had the film been made now, Lola might have just been able to fire out a perfectly worded, particularly emotive tweet explaining the situation, then sat back and waited for her PayPal or GoFundMe account to fill up. Even so, the pace in which we live hasn’t slowed down. If anything, it’s gotten quicker, more instantaneous, increasingly relentless, our mind’s needing to get sharper, busier, our rents higher, our jobs more demanding. I don’t know… maybe I’m moving into generalized, abstract territory, but my point is, Run Lola Run still rings true. It still hits a nerve. And it still feels like we’re up against the clock, always trying to catch up with time, forever running forwards.

You can follow Daisy on Twitter and Esme on Instagram.

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.