A dozen or so wooden chairs are sprinkled along a dusty desert road — placed in no seeming order or pattern. In the distance, a black sedan approaches. As it arrives at the cluster of chairs, it softly serves to knock over and destroy every chair it passes. Once all the chairs are toppled and the car has come to a halt, a uniformed policeman climbs out of the trunk of the car.
The dusty-blonde man grabs a glass of water from the car’s driver, approaches the frame and directly addresses the audience, asking why, in the Steven Spielberg directed movie ET, the alien was brown. The answer, he says, is no reason. The cop continues into a fourth-wall breaking monologue by listing several other unanswered mysteries from film history — hoping to prove that in every great movie there is an important element: the presence of no reason.
Rubber is a movie that not only acknowledges the element of the unknown that exists in film as it does in life — it celebrates it. On the surface, the French-produced, California-shot movie by Quentin Dupieux is about a sentient tire that rolls around the California desert using telekinesis to explode the heads of people and animals.
Part Henry: The Portrait of a Serial Killer and part Toy Story, the film’s tire-centric plot gleefully acknowledges the fact it is a terrible idea for a horror movie — reveling in the absurdness of its scenario.
Gruesome special effects and a pitch-perfect musical score that actually builds tension where none should seemingly exist help to sell the story of Robert, the killer tire with a short fuse temper.
If Rubber was only about a silent killer tire exploring its murderous tendencies, though, the film would be hard pressed to sustain itself over its 85 minute running time. Thankfully, Rubber isn’t just your typical American horror schlockfest. The movie builds onto its French director’s gleeful love letter to the absurd and unknowable by adding a second, even more fascinating sub-plot.
As Robert journeys through the desert, learning to harness his power to get what he wants and dish out vengeance on those that wrong him, a gathering of men and women watch the tire’s journey from a distance — peering out through binoculars. As they bare witness, the tire’s audience comments on the action — voicing the concerns, observations and growing impatience probably being felt by the majority of people who are watching the film.
The characters the tire encounters seem to realize they are being watched and that they exist only in a movie made for the enjoyment of others. These self-concious characters even plot to kill the audience that is watching them through binoculars so that the movie can end and the characters go back to their own lives.
This metatextual Greek chorus adds a whole new layer to the movie — allowing Dupieux to have his cake and eat it too as he spins commentary on the American monster movie while still being able to make his own tribute to the sub-genre.
Rubber is funny in its unexpectedness but it is not completely without fault. There are moments when the film’s joke within a joke becomes a bit too much for the film’s structure to support — allowing for brief moments where the movie breaks down upon itself and becomes a parody of its self-parody.
All this metatext can be exhausting and Rubber is a film that is sure to polarize its audience. Those that either don’t get or appreciate Dupieux intentions are sure to be lost in the sea of weirdness-for-weirdness’ sake that Rubber leaves littered along its trail.
Rubber is a movie best enjoyed by just letting go and allowing the film to wash over you. If you follow the advice issued by the film’s narrative prologue and just accept that the movie will not answer the whys and wherefores, you’ll enjoy it a lot more than if you try and wrap your head around second-guessing the director’s intent — specifically when it comes to the murderous tire’s purpose.
Dupieux does not care about audiences understanding the story of Robert the tire. To the filmmaker, the part of the film that is perhaps be the movie’s biggest selling point — a tire that kills — is just a means to an end. Rubber is about so much more than simple gore — it’s about the nature of an audience, the limitations of a story and the price of entertainment. It’s about embracing the weird and how sometimes it’s just not as necessary to know why a tire can pop a man’s melon by vibrating at a certain frequency as it is to just know that it can.
Rubber won’t be released in theaters until April 1, but you can watch the movie today OnDemand.
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Notable Cast: Stephen Spinella, Roxanne Mesquida, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser, Ethan Cohn, Charley Koontz, and Tara O’Brien
Writer(s): Quentin Dupieux