151. RUBBER (2010)

“Quentin will probably lose some people along the way, because he is never demonstrative, doesn’t tell you what you must feel at a particular moment with a little music saying you should laugh or be scared. His vision is absolutely free, it is at once controlled and instinctive, that’s what he stands for, and that gives the spectator great freedom… The spectator feels a little abandoned, he doesn’t know where he is. That will be the main criticism. And yet it is probably Rubber’s greatest asset. The spectator will be contaminated with the film’s freedom.”–producer Gregory Bernard 

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Stephen Spinella, , , Wings Hauser

PLOT: To begin the movie, a policeman hops out of a car trunk and explains that “no reason” is the most powerful element of style. We then see a group of people assembled in the desert; a man in a tie hands out binoculars and they are told to train their eyes on the horizon. Through the glasses they watch a tire come to life and observe as it learns to move and blow up heads, eventually stalking a beautiful young woman who ends up in a motel in the middle of nowhere.
Still from Rubber (2010)
BACKGROUND:

  • Quentin Dupieux records electronic music under the stage name “Mr. Ozio.”
  • Music videos aside, Rubber was Dupieux’s third film, after a 45-minute experiment called Nonfilm (2002) and the French-language flop comedy Steak (2007).
  • Dupieux served as the writer, director, cinematographer, editor, sole cameraman, and co-composer of Rubber.
  • Robert the Tire was rigged to move with a remote controlled motor, moving the cylinder like a hamster in a wheel.
  • Rubber cost only $500,000 to make, but made only about $100,000 in theatrical receipts.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Obviously, it has to be a shot of Robert, the world’s most lovable and expressive killer tire.  We’ll go with the moment when he is standing in front of a Roxane Mesquida mannequin, tentatively rolling towards her, wondering whether it is a real girl or not. You can almost see the furrows forming in his tread as he mulls the situation over.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Well, it is a movie about an animate tire that kills things by making their heads explode telekinetically. That would be enough for most movies, but Rubber rolls that extra mile by adding a metamovie subplot concerning a Greek chorus/focus group in the desert who watch the action through binoculars and comment on it. What emerges from this collision of slasher-movie spoof and Theater of the Absurd is the most clever, original, and hilarious movie mash-up in recent memory.


Original trailer for Rubber

COMMENTS: Why does Rubber start with an extended monologue, full of examples from classic movies, explaining that the film you are about to see is “an homage to ‘no reason,’ that most powerful element of style”? It’s a puzzling speech, for reasons that may not immediately be obvious, and it wasn’t delivered just to offer Rex Reed a chance to quip, “clearly one of the worst, if not the worst, movies ever made, there’s no reason to subject yourself to this galling Gallic exercise in extended audience abuse.” Most notably, the prologue serves as an invitation to the audience to climb onto the movie’s absurdist porch, giving fair warning to those who demand to have literal, logical plots spoonfed to them that they may want to order out, while whetting the rest of our appetites for some savory weirdness. Rather than wondering about the meaning of the foreword, however, a better question may be: why is it delivered by a cop who crawls out of a car trunk? And why is the sedan that delivers the officer so careful to weave back and forth and make sure it knocks down each and every one of the folding chairs that have been carefully set up at regular intervals along this unpaved road in the middle of the desert? In fact, this last question is actually asked by one of the spectators who listens to the speech, after he’s handed his set of binoculars and instructed to train them on the horizon. “We could have sat on those,” he complains.

We’ll come back to the issue of “no reason,” because it seems to me that Rubber has its reasons, of which reason knows not. Obviously, the first question that springs to mind watching this movie is, how and why does a discarded tire in a junkyard suddenly come to life, discover it has telekinetic powers to blow things up, and embark on a killing spree? Perhaps there is no reason—or, to be more precise, no logical explanation—for the movie’s key event. It certainly is a blast, however, to see him do so. This vulcanized hunk of rubber actually develops a personality as it stirs to life, explores its world, exults when it discovers it has the power to blow up bunny rabbits, and develops an unhealthy crush on a sexy French girl speeding down the highway in a red convertible. Robert (the tire’s name is Robert, the credits tell us) is a fully formed character (or at least a fully molded one) with his own needs and desires, and possibly even a code of ethics. He reflects on his situation (we see his “tire thoughts” in a strange montage of memories). He doesn’t kill everyone indiscriminately—he spares a boy who senses his true nature. And he even has a motivation for the worst of his rampages: revenge for the holocaust that we humans have perpetrated on his kind. The fact that Robert can roll around the desert and turn people’s heads into a shrapnel may be inexplicable, but his character isn’t arbitrary: he exhibits a detectable psychology and, without saying a word or lifting a finger, he fulfills all the standard duties of a well-defined slasher villain. He is even, dare we say, sympathetic.

So, perhaps we can suspend disbelief and accept a tire as the villain in a slasher movie. But, why is there an audience of people assembled in the desert to watch his exploits through binoculars? (Obviously, the movie suggests that we should answer this question with the refrain “no reason”…) The peanut gallery consists of a couple of nitwit nerds, a pair of teenage girls, a father and son, a sassy black woman; there’s also an older man in a wheelchair (Wings Hauser) who watches the show day and night, while the others sleep, and is far more involved in the story than seems natural. (Why is he, in particular, so wrapped up in the presentation that he doesn’t need to sleep or eat? No points for guessing “no reason”). The assembly’s purpose (as opposed to their “reason”) is, initially at least, to provide satirical commentary on the horror movie action. So, they complain of boredom during establishing shots, perk up when something explodes, ogle the soon-to-be female victim in the obligatory shower scene, and so on. At one point, one spectator suggests a quite reasonable alternative course of action directly to the actors in the film, who then explain their motives without resorting to the “no reason” excuse. (Stephen Spinella’s politely annoyed reactions during this scene are pure comedy gold).  Their boorish behavior also implicitly criticizes movie spectators, allowing the filmmakers to take shots at such cinema sins as talking during the movie and film piracy. Besides these functions, however, the chorus has its own plot arc, one that I won’t spoil, but one that is less reasonable (and more intriguing) than the story of a tire that rolls around the Mojave blowing up people’s heads.

But let’s return to that opening “no reason” speech, which is in many ways the centerpiece of the movie. The dull moviegoer will accept the cop’s statements at face value, conclude that “no reason = random = nothing in the movie matters,” and mentally check out. Those who think about the speech and accept it as a challenge, on the other hand, slowly come to realize that the “no reason” argument is a prank on the audience. After all, the examples of “no reason” that the officer cites, on closer reflection, turn out to have reasons after all. Consider the statement, “in Oliver Stone’s JFK, why is the president suddenly assassinated by some stranger?” The answer, of course, is not “no reason,” as the cop asserts, but quite the opposite: the “why” of the assassination is the movie’s entire reason to exist, the question that it spends its entire running time proposing an answer to. He might as well ask, “in Citizen Kane, why does Kane say ‘Rosebud’ on his deathbed?” Bright minds can come up with justifications for most of the other “no reasons” he advances, as well, whether they rely on “in-movie” reasoning or “out-of-movie” reasoning (characters generally don’t use the bathroom in movies, for example, because it takes up precious screen time while rarely advancing the plot). One of the lessons, and therefore the “reasons,” behind the “no reason” speech is to wake up the audience to the idea that they shouldn’t necessarily trust everything a character in a movie is telling them, even if he appears to be speaking directly to them, and even if he dresses in an authoritative uniform. There are other “reasons” to be found in the little brainteasers and conundrums that litter Rubber‘s landscape, should one care to apply oneself to finding them.

The upper layer of the joke in the “no reason” speech is that it’s a pun on two different meanings of “reason”: reason as “the motivation for a thing” and reason as “rational explanation.” Although Rubber‘s what-if-a-tire-came-to-life-and-killed-people premise is irrational and could never happen, and many of the movie’s jokes are deliberately absurd, this is not some completely arbitrary, random story. Everything is carefully planned out and fits into an intricate pattern; when characters in the tire plotline cross over into the audience plotline, events in one of these realities produce effects in the other. There is an artistic reason for absolutely everything that happens in Rubber, even if that reason is only to set up a joke. Of  his own Synecdoche, New York said “you don’t have to worry, ‘What does the burning house mean?’ Who cares. It’s a burning house that someone lives in—it’s funny.” The reason the house in Synechdoche is on fire is because it’s funny; the reason it’s funny is because there’s no reason for it to be on fire. To say, as Rubber‘s cop proposes, that “all great films, without exception, contain an important element of ‘no reason'” would be ridiculous if it meant that each movie contained elements that had no artistic motivation. However, if you substitute the phrasing “the irrational” for “no reason,” the statement becomes much more interesting (the novelist Vladimir Nabokov once said “that all great literature skirts the irrational”). You want a movie with “no reason”? How about a story where a seemingly mismatched couple who are actually perfect for each other fail to get together because of a misunderstanding that is resolved in the movie’s last reel? Now, there’s a movie that has no reason to exist.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Weird doesn’t quite cover it, but fans of the surreal will find Rubber – drumroll, please – a gripping experience.”–David Edwards, Daily Mirror

“This weird road movie about a homicidal car tyre… is nowhere near as much fun as it sounds.”–Sukdev Sandhu, The Telegraph (Cannes screening)

“..an uber-cerebral spoof that is at once silly and smart, populist like a mildly trashy B-movie yet high brow like absurdist theater.”–Farihah Zaman, The Huffington Post (festival screening)

OFFICIAL SITE:

Rubber (Official Movie Site) – a trailer, photo gallery and press kit are the main attractions at Magnet Releasing’s official site

IMDB LINK: Rubber (2010)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Interview: Rubber Writer-Director Quentin Dupieux – Interview with the writer/director for Cinema Blend

Rubber (2010) – Five Plot Points Breakdown – An (unintentionally?) ironic breakdown of Rubber‘s plot points according to a screenwriting formula (notice that they only outline the killer tire strand of the plot)

List Candidate: Rubber (2010): Alex Kittle’s original review of Rubber written for this site during its theatrical release

DVD INFO: Neither the Rubber DVD (buy) nor the Blu-ray (buy) come with any special features. The movie is available on video-on-demand (VOD).

2 thoughts on “151. RUBBER (2010)”

  1. I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. I also enjoyed your analysis quite a bit.

    But thinking about why I enjoyed this movie, or more accurately, why it worked for me, would take more analysis on my part. I’m probably not going to do that.

    I think I’m going to go back on the old standby that it actually takes an incredible amount of work to make what appears to be nothing but a collection of non-sequiturs work. I don’t remember the actual quote by the Monty Python guys, but it was along the line of “You can’t just shoot a bearded fish into a sea of barristers and expect it to be funny.”

    Point is, it’s actually pretty difficult to make nonsense works. When it does work, it seems effortless, but it’s not effortless.

    To me this extends into the creation of any “weird” work. From the outside observer it just seems to be weird for weirdness sake. We’ve got the endless detritus of people trying to create something similar when that’s there only goal. Look at the miniseries “Wild Palms” which was something of a response to “Twin Peaks.” Garbage, because they did not understand what makes weird stories work.

    So what does make weird cinema work? I don’t know. If I had to guess, it would be a certain sense of internal consistency combined with a sense of clarity, however obfuscated, on the part of the creators. You mention that all of the seemingly disparate parts of the movie do seem to comment on themselves in a variety of unexpected ways. The “plot” of a murderous rubber tire is ridiculous, as are all the asides, but together they work to create something singular that people can latch onto.

    And of course the indispensable element of any weird film is that of artistry, which any artist worth following knows that sometimes it works and sometimes it don’t. Dupieux’s follow-up “Wrong” contained most of, if not all, of the same elements as “Rubber”, but I could not connect with that film at all.

    Why? Once again, I don’t know. But if there were easy answers we’d all be doing it.

    1. I loved “Wrong”! I saw it first, so I watched “Rubber” and didn’t like it upon first viewing. But I gave it a second chance and really liked it too. It’s funnier than wrong, to me. But “Wrong” still fascinates me. I still haven’t figured it all out. I think I need to re-watch it for the third time :~)

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