Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Butterfly Effect

When watching the movie Run Lola Run I was especially struck by one original and innovative aspect of the film – the snapshots into the future of the people Lola interacts with. Throughout the film Lola is continually entering people’s lives and subtly but fundamentally altering their future. The director highlights Lola’s “butterfly effect” by showing a set of snapshots illustrating the futures of the people that Lola affects.

A clear example of this can be seen in Lola’s interaction with the woman and baby who Lola bumps into as she runs out of her apartment. In each of the three scenarios in the film, Lola’s differing interaction with the woman creates three possible future outcomes for the woman. In the first scenario Lola lightly bumps the woman and the woman becomes an alcoholic and loses her baby. In the second scenario Lola smashes into the woman and the woman eventually wins the lottery. And in the third scenario Lola avoids the woman altogether and the woman eventually becomes devoutly religious.

This aspect of the movie impressed me so much because it drew a clear parallel between the film and narrative loop as expressed in Lev Manovitch’s article “Database”. The possible outcomes illustrated in the film are very comparable to the algorithms Manovitch describes in the programming of video games. In both cases the seemingly inconsequential choices and actions taken by the independent character have innumerable effects on the overall outcome of the narrative.

Moreover, both the film and the game are simply artificial representations of this “butterfly effect” in real life. Yet, unfortunately in the real world the butterfly effect can only be theorized and hypothesized upon, because there is absolutely no way to truly measuring the butterfly effect. In order to do so we would have to manipulate time backwards and alter events which of course is impossible. But nonetheless we can recreate this effect through art, giving humans the visual and mental satisfaction of this phenomenon.

Overall, this aspect of the film struck me because it has been employed so many times in other films of our generation. Films such as The Butterfly Effect, Sliding Doors, Drift, Clue and Wayne’s World all employ this technique to carry the narrative of the film forward. Yet the film Run Lola Run is unique in the sense that not only the main characters are offered multiple outcomes. In this film even the slightest interaction with strangers is portrayed as having an enormous effect on the strangers’ life, thus extending this concept of the “butterfly effect” one step further throughout the narrative.



Blogger Meegan Brooks said...

This is a great point, and I hope Valerie sees it because she was thinking about writing her paper on something similar to this. I agree that this was a great twist on the token overused Groundhog Day effect where the same thing starts happening again and again. Also, I thought the photos of the people Lola runs past were an interesting way to put perspective on Lola herself, since pretty much the same thing is happening to her, but on a larger scale. It was really clever to use snapshots to show time passing after the one slightly changed incident, as opposed to making us watch the film of it; the photos make the change seem more dramatic and striking.

4/08/2007 4:37 PM  
Blogger Danica said...

I agree...I think this post has a very good point. I like that you said there is no way to measure a real-life butterfly effect. I was thinking, when I read Manovich and watching Run Lola Run that these manipulations of temporal events and how they loop around to show different ways in which situations can play out really appeal to people for this reason. There is no way for people to see how what they do currently is going to affect the future, and if they did something differently, how it would change the future. So I think when people watch movies like Run Lola Run and Sliding Doors (which I also really like), it really appeals to them because it allows them to think about these things and experience them.

4/08/2007 5:13 PM  
Blogger Frank Song said...

Your point is clear and i agree. When I was watching the film i couldn't stop thinking of this idea of the butterfly effect.

However, the woman with the baby I wasn't sure about the time sequence. I thought the film showed her past, i guess i am wrong.

I agree with your idea that this idea of 'butterfly effect' can only be theorized.

I also want to introduce one theory completely the opposite: No matter what Lola does to influence or change, there is no change in outcome as if 'final destination'

4/08/2007 7:59 PM  
Blogger Guillermo Murga said...

I agree with you that "Run Lola Run" defenitely stands apart from the other butterfly effect type movies. What I enjoyed the most was seeing how a small change can have a huge difference. I began to think about the series of events in my own life-how a small choice can potentially have a profound influence on the future. You start getting that "What if" feeling. It really makes one think about this theory, yet it sucks it can't actually be tested.

4/08/2007 8:30 PM  
Blogger Daniella said...

I also agree with this. Run Lola Run is unique in the way the futures of the other characters are protrayed: The audience, along with Lola, feels rushed, and since we can't take the time to concentrate on the other people, several flashes of photoshots are displayed within a span of about five seconds.

Another good example of the Butterfly-Effect-type storyline is one of the episodes of the Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror (I forget which one). I don't recall much of it, so if I get something wrong, please correct me. There was one in which Homer has a toaster that allows him to time travel. He travels back all the way to the prehistoric ages of the dinosaurs and accidentally kills a butterfly. He goes back to his own time and finds that it has changed dramatically. The sequence repeats depending on what Homer squishes or kills and each "future" is different. His final return to the future shows his family once again "normal", except that they have evolved into people with stretchy frog tongues.

4/29/2007 3:00 PM  

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