Two sisters build a machine that can see into the future and find that the flow of time is not something to be messed with in Andrew Legge’s LOLA.
Time travel is often used to explore alternate scenarios created by changing key historical events. Back to the Future Part II famously did this in a fun and digestible way. The idea that the most innocuous of choices can result in a dark or unrecognisable future has been fodder for science fiction stories for a long time now. LOLA isn’t strictly a time travel story as no actual travelling through time takes place but the principle is the same as it involves using knowledge of the future to affect the present.
Thomasina -or Tom- (Emma Appleton) and Martha -or Mars- (Stefanie Martini) create a machine that is able to look into the future. The machine is named LOLA after their mother and in a way it fills that lost role in their lives. It provides them with a source of financial security and helps shape their tastes in music and entertainment. It starts off innocuously with things like enjoying the music of David Bowie decades early but quickly becomes far more serious when the second world war breaks out and the sisters start to question whether the device they have access to comes with greater responsibility. They reconcile this by helping in secret until they are drafted to help the Allied forces.
What follows is a stunningly depicted exploration of the fragility of history. Decisions are made on information gained from a day in the future which starts off as a net positive for the Allies before spiralling out of control as the consequences of decisions made without forward planning end up being far worse than imagined. The timeline alters in unrecognisable ways as seen through glances into the future that reveal David Bowie, Stanley Kubrick and other cultural icons are no longer present. Tom and Mars come to realise that they didn’t understand the gravity of their invention and question whether they had any right to interfere in the way they did.
One thing LOLA does that makes it stand out is that the complex moral questions are posed without the film arriving at a position on them. It isn’t the place of the script to tell the audience what is right or wrong. They are presented with information and encouraged to make up their own minds. The content of the film paints the events themselves in a distinctly negative light but the notion of not ever knowing the true consequences of a given choice is always in the background. The film achieves this by broadly putting Tom and Mars on opposite sides of the debate in order to let them have it. Tom is typically more pragmatic whereas Mars is more idealistic so together they frame the debate nicely. Repeated reference is made to people being alive that wouldn’t have been without their intervention and the utilitarian idea of sacrificing the relative few to save the many. As cold a judgement as it may be there is an argument for such difficult choices being necessary during wartime. Added to that are the existential questions around which is the better timeline. Is the world a better place with or without David Bowie’s music in it and who has the right to make that determination? It’s expertly presented and explored in a way that encourages thought.
LOLA isn’t just made up of its science fiction thought experiment. Running alongside that is a touching character-driven narrative about two orphaned sisters searching for meaning. Tom is more guarded as a way to protect herself against emotional turmoil while Mars is more outgoing and looking to be loved. Mars pursues a relationship that Tom sees as being a way to manipulate her and their differing views on everything they’re dealing with constantly threatens to drive them apart. Emma Appleton and Stefanie Martini are both excellent in their roles with a believable familial connection as well as bringing a great deal of nuance to the characters they play. A lot is asked of them and they never fail to sell the material. There is sometimes a disconnect between the characterisation and the storytelling with the science fiction plot overwhelming the more personal story that could have used a little more time to breathe but the imbalance is minor and rarely becomes a problem.
Stylistically, LOLA is a very interesting film. The opening and closing text informs the viewer that the film is made up of reels that were unearthed. The found footage format is a compelling choice that LOLA uses well. The splicing of new and archival footage and the alteration of the latter to indicate the changing timeline is seamless. The entire film is in black and white with flourishes to indicate that the footage is decades old. It’s an impressive touch that makes it a memorable viewing experience supporting the idea that it’s an old lost story.
On a broader level, LOLA serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of considering choices carefully and the dangers of insular isolationist thinking. It’s a lesson that can apply on a personal level in terms of how people live their daily lives or on a global level where decisions are made that can impact the future in significant ways. The film uses the backdrop of the second world war to suggest how differently things may have played out and how remarkable it was that things played out the way they did. It’s a timely message as many things in the world of the present day will require precise and careful decision-making. LOLA is a remarkable film with an eye on the future through exploration of the past.
A fascinating, stylish and remarkable film with an eye on the future through exploration of the past. The central premise of using future knowledge to determine actions in the present is a strong one that is brilliantly explored. Complex moral questions pepper the narrative with the two central characters occupying opposite positions on them. The two leads are distinct and the actors sell the material wonderfully. Visually it’s striking and memorable and the cautionary tale at its heart is timely. LOLA is a remarkable film with an eye on the future through exploration of the past.
- a fascinating central premise
- the stylistic choices making for a visually striking and memorable experience
- the seamless combination of new and archive footage
- excellent performances from the two leads
- strong characterisation
- compelling complex moral questions posed throughout
- inviting the audience to consider the questions rather than the film declaring a position on them
- the science fiction plot occasionally overwhelming the personal story
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