Rubber (2010)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-05-09 13:55
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Written and Directed by: : Quentin Dupieux


Starring: Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, and Wings Hauser


Reviewed by: Brett G.





“My God, the kid was right. The killer is the tire.”


I guess it’s appropriate that I had to drive 80 miles and put a lot of wear and tear on my tires to see Rubber. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, let me bring you up to speed: Rubber is that “killer tire” movie that’s been turning heads ever since it rolled out of the mind of French writer/director Quentin Dupieux. Sound nutty enough for you? If not, what if I told you that its absurd premise is just a springboard for a self-reflexive exercise in intellectual self-indulgence and meta-fictional gymnastics?

We open not with one tire, but four, and they’re attached to a car (where they should be, obviously). The car’s carrying a sheriff type who is inexplicably hanging out in the trunk; once he gets out, he begins to speak to an audience. We think it’s us, but the camera reveals a group of people that have been gathered by another man (known only as “The Accountant”), and the sheriff informs them that they’re about to see a movie unfold right before their eyes. As they peer through the binoculars provided to them, they notice that a tire (who the end credits refer to as “Robert”) that gains sentience in the middle of a junk heap and proceeds to roll itself away. Before long, he’s rolling over everything in his path…or blowing it up with his psycho-kinetic powers.

So yes, there is a killer tire to be found here, and this element is some gleeful B-movie camp and schlock. It’s obviously absurd, but, then again so are killer tomatoes and killer condoms (the other homicidal rubber), and Rubber is sort of coming out of that mode. But it’s also very well-made--it’s legitimately tense, wickedly funny, meticulously shot, well-acted, and Robert is brought to life in convincing fashion (he actually feels like a real character as we watch him explore and grow, which might be the silliest thing of all). In this sense, it feels like they took the Grindhouse approach by trying to make the best killer tire movie they possible could, and they succeed for the most part. If you can get over the silliness of it all, the stalking scenes are pretty cool, and I particularly dug the minimalist score that sort of echoed Jaws in its ability to let you know that death was creeping up. In some ways, the flick also seems like a wry deconstruction of splatter movies because it often feels like an absurd exercise in spraying blood and guts everywhere. I think Dupieux might have even had Psycho on his mind because we end up at a roadside motel at some point, and it comes complete with a shower scene (or two) that plays up on the expectations of schlock.

However, it also manages to throw those expectations out of the window from the opening scene. In his opening address to his audience, the sheriff is basically breaking the fourth wall and might as well be speaking to us; it’s here that he asks us to consider why certain things exist as they do in films before informing us that there is “no reason” for these things. We then learn that Rubber itself is a homage to “no reason,” as if the film is going to live out its own nihilistic viewpoint. And indeed that seems to be the case because there is little logical reason behind the events in Rubber. How does a tire spring to life, let alone have the ability to turn a human head into mush, Scanners-style? If we’re to believe that opening monologue, there is no reason for it all and we’re supposed to just roll with it.

The film is kind of lying its ass off, though, because there is a bit of a method to its madness. The whole thing is sort of a quirky, not-so-subtle examination of the way artists, audiences, and art itself interact. The audience within the film is composed of obvious familiar types: a couple of whiny teenage girls, a couple of film buffs, a little kid and his father, etc. They might as well be us, as they poke and prod the film’s narrative and plot points the same way any normal person would; even though they’re watching complete insanity unfold, they still try to find some logic in it (despite being told there is none). It’s kind of fun to see how the film constantly shifts its views on the audience: at first, it kind of sees them as equals, as it does allow them to comment on it as they watch. Before long, though, it’s looking down on them and satirizing how so many audiences will eat up anything that’s fed to them. And then there’s Wings Hauser as this handicapped onlooker who just wants to watch his movie in peace; he’s like a champion for the audience, but even he is eventually found to be complicit in all the madness.

So I guess that just leaves us with the art itself (in this case, the story of a killer tire), which, like Robert, takes on a life of its own, free from both audience and artist. The flick maybe gets a little too cute and sometimes comes off as that really pretentious film student you didn’t really like (but probably secretly admired), but there’s some interesting things rummaging around in its head. It’s toying a lot with signification itself too--after all, Robert could be a “killer anything”--he’s only a tire due to a seemingly arbitrary choice. It’s what he signifies that’s important, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide exactly what that is. I say he’s basically art run amok, but you can have fun speculating on other deeper meanings and symbols. Of course, that’s exactly what the film itself seems to be warning against, which is to say that it really isn’t--it’s sort of the equivalent of telling a kid not to touch a hot burner because of course he will. Despite your expectations and even the film’s own insistence that’s just some monster movie pap, it's not.

Rubber is certainly toying with audience expectations, and it at least forced me to consider something. The group of people within the film are literally a captive audience (of course, we don’t know why they’re there in the first place and why they just can’t leave), but I willingly paid money to see a movie about a killer tire. I say it was money well spent--all $6.75 of it. I’m not sure how everyone will take it, as it’s likely to be pretty divisive; those expecting to just see “a killer tire” movie will be disappointed (and you're probably the type of audience member this movie likes to skewer). However, if you get over the initial weirdness and let the post-modern irony roll over you, you’ll see that Rubber is a clever, fun film that stretches the limits of cinematic nonsense and is surprisingly thought provoking. It might only have one trick up its sleeve, but it knows how to pull it off well. Buy it!



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