A couple of years ago (2012), when I knew very little about film outside having seen a lot of horror movies and watched some reviews online, I was on a podcast initially titled “The Forumcast.” I say initially because it was such a disaster that my co-hosts and I renamed it “Podwreck.” On an episode of that show we reviewed an indy 2010 film called “Rubber,” directed by Quentin Dupieux. I absolutely hated it for numerous reasons: its promising premise of a rampaging tire that was so poorly handled; its “no reason” philosophy that was used to explain away any plot holes and inconsistencies; its addressing of both Hollywood and the audience in such a “clever” manner. I couldn’t stand it and proclaimed it to be one of the most disappointing and pretentious films I’d ever seen. I was shocked to find out that not only did one of my co-hosts love it, but so did several of my classmates. It took me two years to force myself to re-examine this movie, and with an accumulated arsenal of critical and filmic knowledge behind me what are my conclusions? That “Rubber” is a rather ambitious, but ultimately mediocre film. Not exactly a drastic revelation worthy of a two year build-up.
The film has a “narrative” in the story of the killer tire and a “meta narrative” in the story of the audience and those staging the film. Through the first two-thirds of the movie the narrative part is simple enough. It’s the tale of a tire that for no reason becomes sentient and has “psycho-kinetic” powers. It roams the desert roads with little purpose except to blow up any creature it finds. There we have it. A truly interesting and unique premise that promises to not only be amusing, but also horrifying. While yes the tire’s antics do occasionally earn a chuckle, particularly in one scene where it watches NASCAR, it rarely is actually horrifying. If you’ve seen the head explosion from “Scanners” you’ve seen everything horrific about this film, and you’ve seen it eight times less than someone who has watched “Rubber.” The tire unfortunately has only one method of killing, and thus we are treated to the same sequence of events with every kill. The tire vibrates, the victim sits there, 5,4, 3, 2, 1, Boom! It’s the same thing every time and while yes the effects are fairly well done, it gets very boring after a while. It’s hard to build up tension when the audience knows exactly what’s going to happen.
Watching these events unfold is an audience. A literal one who through binoculars observe the movie the same way we do, except stranded in the desert and watching it in real time. They complain and speculate about the events unfolding over the course of a couple days, but ultimately succumb to the poisoned food planted by the “filmmakers” so that they can end the movie and go home. Unfortunately one wheelchair bound man remains, stubbornly refusing to stop watching, which puts a kink in the the omniscient sheriff’s plans and eventually leads to the meta-narrative completely taking over and becoming the narrative.
The sheriff’s opening monologue introduces the concept of “no reason” through several examples: why is the alien brown in “ET”; why do the characters fall in love in “Love Story”; and why do we never see the characters go to the bathroom in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”? The answer to these and questions like “Why can’t we see the air?” and “Why do only some people like sausages?” is NO REASON. While theoretically I should like this, the movie concentrates on too wide a variety of “no reason” examples xto really make clear what it’s talking about. Is it talking about poor writing? Is it talking about unexplained production decisions? Is it talking about the things the writers leave out because they aren’t relevant? Either way, the movie uses this as a launching point to turn “Rubber” into an absurdist film, which by all rights a sentient tire movie should be. The only problem is the film isn’t absurd enough. The plot makes sense, very rarely do things actually happen randomly, and once the world is established nothing abnormal happens that defies the rules. It’s actually an astonishingly straightforward movie, which is quite a shame.
While I may have put my theories of pretentiousness onto the film, interviews with the director show that this was truly a “no reason” movie. It’s a blank slate of “random” events that leave you asking questions and making theories. In this way it is a success, but the filmmakers ultimately fail at fulfilling the ambitions they had. It’s neither the “no reason” film it wished to be, nor an interesting sentient tire film, perhaps because it tried to do both at the same time. However, its blank slate nature also implies that I can’t possibly recommend nor condone this film, because each person will react to it differently, more so than with most other films. If we just examine its quality though, then it’s quite clear that “Rubber” is mediocre, unfulfilled, and not worth most people’s time.
What’s your take on Rubber? What are some other ridiculous film concepts have you enjoyed? Sound off in the comments below!