In narrative cinema, things usually happen for a reason (through cause and effect), but this is not always the case. A president may get shot; ET is brown; Adrian Brody has to hide in rubble, even though he plays the piano beautifully; or a car tire may come to life, possess psychokinetic powers, and embark on bloody a killing spree.
That’s not just the premise, but essentially the entire plot of Quentin Dupieux’sbizarre horror Rubber (2010). If you can’t accept that without a reason, this isn’t going to be a film for you. If it sounds just mad enough for your own personal cinemtic taste, chances are you will be rewarded; Rubber delivers on its gore effects and then some, as things (and people) of all manner explode and are left in the wake of the angry former automobile part.
And that’s basically all of the main story for the movie. Tire gets angry. Things explode. But that’s only half of what the movie is. It’s also another entry into the increasingly crowded field of meta-cinema and one of the few that comments as much on its audience as its form. The events of Rubber are observed from afar by an audience, watching through binoculars, commenting on the action and offering speculation.
Quite what was intended by Dupieux is a little mysterious to me. The whole metafiction aspect of the story delivers many of the film’s biggest laughs through the police Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) as he attempts to both run an investigation into a killer tire and maintain control over the increasingly uncontrollable “movie” that the audience is watching from their desert vantage point, but whether or not a self-proclaimed “homage to no reason” has much worth in itself is questionable.
What really elevates Rubber beyond being merely a clever inside joke about bad films is the movie’s visual style. Crisply shot, every single frame has the appearance of being carefully composed by a well-trained eye indeed. The curious effect of the combination of moving images and soundtrack provides a potent example of just how effectively a spectator can be invited to engage with a character. This is made evident in the early stages of the tire’s “life”. As unbelievable as it may sound, I felt as though this piece of animated rubber was imbued with genuine personality. For the first half of the film I cared more about that tire than I have about the human protagonists of far too many other recent releases.
It may well be that the weaknesses of the second half originate with the shift in narrative perspective away from the tire itself. Or it may be that the whole premise – even with the postmodern twists – is too simple to sustain its short running time. Rubber is a smart and entertaining film that ends up rolling on past the point at which it really works – but when it works, it really works.
Rubber will also be receiving a special run at the Brixton Ritzy for anybody who wants to see that vulcanized mayhem on the big screen.