Every once in a while a film comes along and completely breaks away from its contemporaries to successfully create something controversial and engaging. Unique in nature, these films usually challenge the standards of narrative and filming techniques such as how Jean-Luc Goddard’s 1960 masterpiece Breathless and Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde largely influenced the French and American New Wave movements in film respectively. These films are classics because they intelligently and masterfully appeal to both average filmgoers and the cinephiliacs.
Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber, however, will never be one of these praised gems despite how hard it tries. Much like Sarah, the woman Sylvester Stallone has to save in the opening of the classic film Cliffhanger, Rubber has a spark of possible salvation but ultimately just falls short into a miserable painful death. Rubber did something I never thought a film could do and that’s insult me; not on a deep cultural level but as an audience member. The whole film plays out so smugly and arrogantly that by the end I could have sworn it literally spit in my face.
In a nutshell, Rubber follows the conscious awakening of a tire and it’s obsession with murder. From the moment it is aware of its being, it travels aimlessly before coming across a discarded plastic bottle. Hesitantly, the tire studies the bottle before rolling over it, crushing it and almost immediately finding pleasure in the destruction. This starts the tire’s rampage and it rolls further breaking everything in its path before the obstacles, such as bottles and small animals, become larger and more resistant to being demolished by a mere roll. It is then revealed that the tire possesses some form of psychic ability that allows it to make objects spontaneously explode. Meanwhile a group of spectators, whom are watching the tire’s escapades, are dealing with their own feelings of uncertainty with the action taking place before them.
There are two things that Rubber does exceptionally well. One is creating a developed and creepy character out of an inanimate object. The tire is made so menacing and terrifying simply from how the camera follows and captures its movements. Through low angles and tight close ups that follow the tire, the framing and lighting gives the object a sinister demeanor along with a personality not found or expressed in any other character in the entire film. There is no motivation for the tire’s murdering, aside from the fact that it simply derives pleasure in only destroying what it can and watching television.
Who knew a movie about a killer tire could be so awful?
The second thing Rubber does exceptionally well is screw the audience. A major part of the film is spent addressing viewers and its opening sequence includes the character Lieutenant Chad breaking the fourth wall to ask audiences what are the reasons for many things in film? During some incomprehensible rambling, Lt. Chad asks a series of “unanswerable” questions that actually have obvious answers to them such as: why was E.T. brown, why don’t we see characters in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre go to the bathroom (regardless of the fact that we actually do see that), or why does the Jewish Wladyslaw Szpliman in The Pianist have to hide in Nazi occupied France during the Holocaust?
Fact: Franklin uses the bathroom 5 minutes and 30 seconds into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The questions are so ignorant and ridiculous that I assumed this part of the film was meant to be a joke, but if so about what or on whom? Is it mocking audience members who may ask these questions? Are there audience members who would actually ask this? Was this scene just random BS? Either way the delivery is done so genuinely that the monologue becomes awkward and confusing. Lt. Chad finally answers that there is no reason for these things, further explaining that what spectators both in and of the film are about to see is an homage to the “no reason,” thus attempting to absolve itself as a film from its flaws of being an underdeveloped, self-righteous mess.
To say that one’s film is an homage to the “no reason” is basically saying it doesn’t matter if the film doesn’t make sense, it’s suppose to do that. This is the laziest and most disrespectful plot device of all because it gives pardon to a lethargic attempt at story writing. It’s a cowardly way of making a film or any piece of work because it is attempting to shun the criticism that the author is aware that it will receive. Instead of taking the time to develop an interesting metaphysical psycho-thriller, Rubber spends much of its time mocking the spectator for being frustrated with its lack of development. The audience within the film constantly questions the logic of certain scenes like would a tire float or sink in water and the pace of the movie as well as why they shouldn’t just pirate the film. The film’s audience is obviously meant to represent the questions we ourselves may be asking, while other characters in the film answer them. However, the questions are frankly stupid and even if they aren’t meant to represent a specific individual’s train of thought the fact remains that Dupieux assigns such ridiculous observations to the spectators thus insulting the spectator in general.
The 1956 French “The Red Balloon” is a much better “no reason” inanimate object film. No blood but at least fun.
When audiences are not being condescended to, we are subjected to terrible acting and line delivery from surprisingly everyone in the film. There are no likable characters and the ones whom we are meant to feel empathy towards are quickly introduced and receive no more than about ten minutes of screen time. Scenes that are meant to be humorous are so cheesy and delivered with such mediocrity that I have no doubt that the lines themselves were even more lackluster on paper. No one reacts realistically to situations in Rubber, which could be argued that in a film of “no reason” why would they? But I argue in a film of “no reason” why even have actors? Why not just have unprofessional non-actors or better yet no actors at all?
More face slapping comes from Dupieux in his sad pathetic attempt at a plot twist, one that nearly was enough to make me want to kick my television in. In an attempt to not spoil such a ridiculous twist, I’ll just say that Dupieux somehow does a bigger cop out than M. Night Shyamalan did when he made the killer in The Happening the trees.
It’s hard to believe but he was once very popular and accepted in society.
The Happening and M. Night’s work actually seem to be a major influence on Dupieux as both Rubber and The Happening share many similar aspects, although Rubber is much, much worse. Both films explore the potential of talented directors who in their own self-indulgence think they can impress others with a half-assed story with no depth leaving its only redeeming qualities to be the director’s style. However, M. Night obviously took The Happening and all of his films seriously. Dupieux, on the other hand, basically admits that he’s aware that his movie makes no sense, but you’re the asshole if you point it out because he’s made it clear that it’s not supposed to and it has “no reason,” the biggest dick move you can pull in art next to defacing a classic and passing it off as your own original.
My head hurt after watching Rubber, although I’m not sure if that was from anger or from quickly shot-gunning my beer to get through awkwardly constructed, unimpressive scenes with no meaning or reason to watch. Rubber would have been “smarter” had Dupieux attempted to create an homage to “the absurd” and watched movies like The Monkee’s amazingly absurd 1968 classic Head or some Monty Python, but to make a film about the “no reason” and not even develop or understand what that phrase means is just a fail that I can’t forgive. Avoid Rubber at all costs, or at least be blackout drunk if curiosity gets the best of you.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time the audience asks a question you were smart enough to know the answer to.
Take a Sip: every minute on the dot when watching Rubber. A Power Hour is probably the only way to get through it.