You’d think a film that fuses art house aesthetics with B-movie schlock would be some kind of wacky masterpiece, but in the case of Rubber, it’s a failed experiment. Here is a film that could have worked simply because of its gloriously absurd premise, namely a tire that comes to life and kills people with its telekinetic powers. Outside of the pages of a Stephen King story – most notably Chattery Teeth, The Mangler, and The Monkey – you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of a possessed inanimate object. Alas, writer/director Quentin Dupieux reaches too far in his efforts to make the film a cerebral commentary on filmmaking, film watching, and film critique; if there’s anything a movie like this should not do, it’s continuously wink at the audience in a showy display of self-awareness. It’s one thing to be confident, but it’s quite another thing to flaunt how much smarter you are than the people watching your movie.
It begins with shots of chairs, which are set randomly on a lone patch of desert. A man stands off to the side with dozens of binoculars in his hands. This would be The Accountant (Jack Plotnick). Then a car comes into view, and it knocks over and breaks every single chair. When it stops, the trunk opens, and a man dressed as a police officer gets out. This would be Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella). He goes to the driver, gets a glass of water, and approaches the camera. He then speaks directly into the camera, presumably at us. He explains that, even in the greatest movies, things happen for absolutely no reason. Why was E.T. the color brown? Why in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre did no one wash their hands? Why in JFK did a random stranger assassinate the President? He goes on to tell us that life is the same way. He then says that the movie we’re about to see is an exercise in No Reason, that greatest of all movie plot devices.
As it turns out, he’s not addressing us. He’s addressing a group of spectators, who each receive a pair of binoculars from The Accountant. As they peer into the distance, they see the story unfolding. A lone tire, half buried by sand, suddenly springs to life and begins rolling through the desert. It quickly discovers how easily it can crush things like water bottles and scorpions. But then it reaches a beer bottle, which it can’t destroy simply by running over. That’s when something strange happens; it begins to vibrate, strange sounds crescendo, and the beer bottle explodes. This tire has the ability to annihilate things with its mental powers. In due time, it will come across a person, and this person’s head will explode. Thus begins a killing spree in a small desert community.
I don’t know about you, but I think this is pretty damn funny. This could have been the extent of the film’s plot, and that would have been just fine. But Dupieux wants to take it one step further by toying with the audience. This is where the desert spectators come in; as they stand there staring into their binoculars, they occasionally make comments to each other about the tire’s journey. And wouldn’t you know, this is pretty much what a movie audience does as a plot unfolds before its eyes. The Accountant and Lieutenant Chad complicate matters by blurring the line between reality and fantasy. There’s a scene, for example, in which Chad and his deputies are at a crime scene; he explains to them that they can all go home, that the story is over, that no one is watching, and that nothing that’s happening is real. He even has one of the officers shoot him to prove his point. He survives … but the end credits haven’t started rolling yet. How can this be? Let’s just say that a man in a wheelchair (Wings Hauser) is still looking through his binoculars, and he wants his story.
What is Dupieux trying to tell us here? That audiences are far too willing to swallow the poison many filmmakers pass off as movies? That men in wheelchairs are like critics, always with the suggestions for plot advancement and never satisfied with the end result? I have no idea what any of this symbolizes, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t really care. I just wanted to see a tire making people’s heads explode. Not everything has to have a deeper meaning.
Or am I missing the point? It could be that the spectators and the man in the wheelchair are simply a piece of the No Reason puzzle, much like a woman named Sheila (Roxane Mesquida), who the tire seems to be attracted to. Dupieux, you clever son of a gun. You’re obviously much smarter than I am. Now that you’ve succeeded in making me feel stupid, perhaps you should consider not making any more movies, since that would only belabor the point. I’ll give you this much: You really had me going with the tire, which you so hilariously billed as Robert. A scene in Rubber makes it clear that you don’t appreciate input from audiences or critics, but since I’ve gone this far, I might as well suggest the following motto for you (and you’ll forgive me for resorting to a really bad pun): Don’t tread on me, I’m a filmmaker!
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