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Comparative Literature Studies 41.3 (2004) 377-403

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The City University of New York

I. Control: "Vor dem Spiel ist nach dem Spiel"

Matter, in our view, is an aggregate of "images." And by "image" we mean a certain existence which is more than that which the idealist calls a representation, but less than that which the realist calls a thing [. . .].
Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory 9

"Vor dem Spiel ist nach dem Spiel" or "the end of the game is before the game."2 Tracing this paradoxical second epigraph of Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run, 1999)andinverting Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's useful notion of "thick description," a "thin description" of Lola's opening sequence follows:3

Foucault's pendulum violently swipes the screen, strung up to an oddly gothic wall-clock sporting a fast-moving Chronos that then swallows its own image. Time merging from the belly of time, the image movement of Lola unfolds in a massive and meandering flow of human bodies, across which a "mystery of unanswered" (Lola) onto-epistemological questions are posed along with their indeterminate grounds:

[In translation] 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?4 [End Page 377]

The movement swirls to a rest, an interval, in which the rules of the game are stated by the security guard, "The ball is round. The game lasts 90 minutes. That's a fact. Everything else is pure theory."5 At this point the soccer ball is kicked into the sky, becoming the viewer's trajectory and movement, and as we and the ball fall back to earth, the meandering bodies on the ground organize themselves into the main title, with the ball coming down onto the forming multitude, opening up as the "O" in Lola. The ball falls into the "O," swallowing the image once again and becoming a now-animated Lola already running. Falling, swallowing, and emerging transmogrified, the image and we are always running, always movement in play and always opening onto the emergent.

And Lola runs in three experiments or 20-minute rounds—all in an attempt at continuity. In "theory" she must find 100,000 DM with which to save her boyfriend, Manni, who in his attempt to prove himself to several members of organized crime, acts as a courier for their cash and then proceeds to lose it on Berlin's U-Bahn.

And Lola runs. She runs in three 20-minute cycles or rounds. In each the ends are changed even though she encounters the same bodies and forces along the way; however, in this play on the Butterfly Effect,6 each round reaches out to several virtual futures because of the slightest modulation of time from run to run. The game is rebooted but the game remembers. And so, "The end of the game is before the game."

The source of the second epigraph is the S. Herberger, the 1954 World Cup winning "German soccer coach" (Whalen 33). The film's first epigraph is taken from "Little Gidding" by T.S. Eliot, which reads, "Wir lassen nie vom Suchen ab, /und doch, am Endt allen unseren Suchen, / sind wir am Ausgangpunkt zurück/ und warden diesen ort zum ersten Mal enfassen," translated as, "And the end of all our exploring/will be to arrive where we started/ and know the place for the first time." Coach Herberger's tactical comment, however unintentionally,7 emphasizes the intensive temporality and feedback loop of the game as play and movement itself. And though Eliot's quotation might be read as a metaphoric motif of the cyclical human voyage or perhaps for the processes of psychoanalytic trauma and forgetting, I would argue that...


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