The opening moments of Rubber break the fourth wall, with a character randomly climbing out of a car boot to explain the principal of “no reason” which governs movies and real life. The principal essentially states that there are things we do not question because they have no real reason behind them. (“In the Steven Spielberg movie E.T., why is the alien brown? No reason.“) Writer-director Quentin Dupieux invoked this “no reason” policy for every single aspect of Rubber‘s narrative, thus allowing himself the freedom to craft a dark comedy that’s completely absurd. How is a tire alive? No reason. Why does a tire have psychokinetic powers? No reason. Why are there spectators watching the “movie” about the tire? No reason. It’s a brilliantly innovative style of meta filmmaking which additionally explores the relationship between movie-goers and Hollywood, and functions as a hilariously biting satire of the movie-going climate of today.
The story takes place somewhere in the desert, where a ragtag group of spectators with binoculars are metaphorically positioned as the crowd of theatre-goers watching a “movie”. In said movie, a tire named Robert comes to life, rising up from the sands armed with psychokinetic powers to explore the world. As he wanders around the immediate area, Robert uses his powers to kill people by making their heads spontaneously explode. The crowd of spectators, meanwhile, are thinned out, but one of them (Hauser) refuses to stop watching the movie because he wants to know how it will end. His stubbornness compels a police lieutenant (Spinella) to persist in his pursuit of the lethal fugitive tire, though he wants to just go home.
The sneaky marketing implied that Rubber was nothing but a rehash of slasher conventions with a tire instead of a masked killer, but this is another classic case of significant mis-marketing. CHUD’s review describes the film as “Roger Corman by way of Samuel Beckett”, and that’s pretty much an ideal summary of this quirky, postmodern oddity. In amidst the logic-devoid story about the strangest cinematic serial killer in history, Dupieux finds time for satire. With the fictional audience comprised of all the usual cinema-goer stereotypes, Dupieux essentially presents a cultural cross-section of today’s movie-going public. It satirises cinema-goer attitudes as well – the geeks break out into discussions at various times, and a bratty kid complains that the “film” is already boring barely a few minutes into the show. A cynical spectator even approaches the actors at one stage to criticise the stupidity of a certain scene. The most brilliant instance of satire, though, involves the audience gobbling up a turkey that’s thrown in front them, as the “organisers” know that they’ll lap it up regardless of quality. Astute viewers will understand this sly metaphor, which is furthered in subsequent scenes to side-splitting degree. The layers of satire go deeper than this, but suffice it to say this material is best experienced than spoiled.
On top of writing and directing, Quentin Dupieux carried out several additional duties on the film; he was the cinematographer, camera operator, co-editor and co-scorer. It’s fair to say that this was his baby, so he gets tremendous credit for making it work as well as it does. He set himself a huge technical challenge by making a tire the central character, but Dupieux rose to the challenge. The visual effects which brought the tire to life are stunningly seamless; guaranteed to provoke murmurs of “How did they do that?“. This technical excellence thankfully extends to the gore, which is satisfyingly brutal and for the most part looks like it was pulled off with practical effects. Also worth mentioning are the actors, all of whom understood the type of movie Dupieux was aiming for and delivered appropriate performances. Stephen Spinella stands out the most, which is relieving since most of the humour and the satirical elements are conveyed through his character of Lieutenant Chad. Wings Hauser gets a massive kudos as well for his amusing portrayal of a wheelchair-bound audience member.
It’s been a long time since a filmmaker has made such a weird movie for the sake of being weird in a cinematic climate packed with so much mainstream Hollywood fluff. Even though Rubber falters towards the end as it struggles to find a coherent plot and devise the best way to close the door, it’s difficult not to like such an original movie.