A deeply strange but worthwhile and entertaining film.
In the middle of the desert, wooden chairs are lined up along a track in a seemingly random arrangement. A car then approaches, knocking over the chairs in a slalom fashion. Out steps a sheriff (from the boot) who then addresses the audience with the meaning of life – that everything is random and happens for no conceivable reason. Then, for no reason, he pours a glass of water onto the floor. As this character states, Rubber is ‘a homage to no reason’ – a film that succeeds in all attempts to be as random, obscure and baffling as possible.
The leading antagonist (or protagonist, who knows) is a car tyre. Yes, that’s right – a lifeless object made of rubber, which through forces unknown ascends to sentience. For no reason, the tyre then proceeds to kill all in its path.
The tyre is complete with a personality – quite an amazing feat of camerawork and directing. Low camera angles give the tyre a threatening demeanour. Its movements intelligently reflect the development of its character as the story progresses. To begin with, it moves slowly and hesitantly. Later on, it moves more quickly and slaloms around, showing its boredom, anger and psychopathic nature.
Bizarrely, the tyre becomes an object of sympathy; you may even find yourself rooting for it as it rolls through the desert blowing up people’s heads. You can’t help but feel it’s a victim of the tyre hating society we live in, and being the only self-aware one of its kind – lonely. When the tyre sees a pile of burning rubber, for example, it gets extra angry. The tyre isn’t completely indiscriminate in its killing: it spares a beautiful woman who later becomes its object of desire, and a young boy, suggesting that is has developed human emotions. Unfortunately, less can be said of the actual human beings in the film, whose characterisation is sketchy and in some places awkward. The film often tries too hard to be witty, with characters telling irreverent jokes which sometimes fall flat on their face, and dialogue often seeming forced.
The plot attempts also to mock the idea of movies themselves. At times this aspect of the film is fascinating, but at others far too in love with itself. It seems to take the view that the following of a script, adherence to a genre and sticking within the accepted rules is an absurd thing to do. For no reason, the tyre’s rampage is viewed by an audience through binoculars from a vantage point far from the action. Without giving too much away, both those who get too involved in what they are witnessing or not involved enough are met with nasty consequences. This could be taken to mean that we should enjoy the fantasy provided by films, but not get so absorbed by it that we are detached from reality.
That said, with a film like this, it is impossible to tell what, if anything, it is trying to say – it is entirely open to interpretation, which is part of its beauty. This is not a film to take too seriously – anyone who tries to do so won’t enjoy the humour. You may find yourself trying to connect the dots during – and for a very long time after – viewing. Why have a random audience be captured and plonked in the desert? Were they chosen? Why has this particular tyre come alive? Why is it so set on violent destruction? No reason?
No, not really. The creators of Rubber set out from the start to create the most eccentric viewing experience possible, throwing just about every convention out of the window. Every detail is carefully and precisely calculated to force you to ask “what the hell just happened?” once the credits have rolled. The combination of the cinematography, wacky plot and amusing scenes will leave you constantly surprised and entertained. All this adds up to induce a unique and slightly uneasy mix of emotions. Rubber is hardly a masterpiece, but with an open mind, it could be one of the most memorable films you’ll ever see.
Rubber (2010), directed by Quentin Dupieux, is released on DVD and Blu-ray disc in the UK by StudioCanal. Certificate 15.