“The problem with being avant-garde is knowing who’s putting on who.” — Calvin, “Calvin and Hobbes”
I’ve seen movies with ridiculous premises. I’ve seen films with sloppy storytelling. I’ve seen films with plot holes so humongous that they leave no plausible way to be bridged. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that started by telling the audience in so many words to sit down, shut up and don’t bother asking any questions. And that’s exactly what happens in the prologue of Rubber.
It’s hard to know where to begin describing this film. Ostensibly, our premise is focused on a sentient killer tire. Yes, an abandoned tire lying in the desert just spontaneously comes to life and starts rolling around, squashing things as tires are wont to do. And what it can’t squash, it blows the fuck up with some psychokinetic abilities. I’ll repeat that: This tire can blow things up with its mind. I’ll repeat that: This tire has a mind.
Now, this might make for a good bit of gory exploitation in itself, but the film doesn’t end there. No, we’ve also got a crowd of people at some vantage point in the desert where they can miraculously watch all of the proceedings through a pair of binoculars. Who are these people, why are they there and how are they able to see events that have considerable distances between them? For that matter, how can a tire just get up, start rolling and develop psychic abilities?
No reason. Seriously, the explanation given is that there is no explanation. A character talks directly into the camera at the film’s outset, telling us that random shit is going to happen and there won’t be any rhyme or reason to it. Just sit down, shut up and roll with it (pun!). For my part, I’d be perfectly willing to do so if the movie gave me anything for it. Unfortunately, the character development is pretty much non-existent, since we never learn anything for certain about any of these characters. Furthermore, the movie ends at a point when it should be gearing up for the third act, leaving the entire story unstructured and unresolved.
The transparently weak narrative only further establishes the film’s humor as its raison d’etre. Not only is this film peppered with pitch-black humor, but it’s meta to a fault. Easily the most prominent example is the aforementioned crowd of spectators, who are clearly meant to be a mirror held up to us, the audience. These characters ask the questions we would ask and they interact with each other in ways that might be seen in any theater. However, judging from the fates of these characters — not to mention their dialogue — I think it’s safe to say that the filmmakers have a very dim view of their paying audiences.
Then again, we also have the film’s emcee (doubling as the town sheriff) and his assistant audience wrangler, neither of whom seem to know just how involved they are in the plot. These characters are both repeatedly shown to be incompetent, with no idea of how to proceed or how to make their lines sound halfway decent. There’s one particular spectator who proves to be smarter and more savvy than the producers, just before he gets killed off by the tire. Just what are the filmmakers trying to say here?
Without question, the best part of this film is the tire. The effects that went into it are shockingly good for such a no-budget production. In every movement, every camera angle and every cue in the score, director Quentin Dupieux successfully manages to make an honest-to-god character from this chunk of rubber. It’s always plain to see what this tire is thinking and going through, even without any emotions or dialogue whatsoever. I’d be perfectly willing to sit through a movie with this character, especially if the movie didn’t offer any explanation or take itself too seriously, but Dupieux still took that approach way too far.
Rubber is a film that gives me absolutely nothing to work with. I don’t know if it’s a good film (even though the visuals are amazingly good) and I don’t know if it’s a bad film (even if the story ends far too early). It’s just that the premise, themes and motivations for all involved are riddles which — by the film’s own admission — have no answer. The whole damn point of the film is that there are no answers to anything, so if I need more information, is that my failing or the film’s? The more I think about it, the harder it gets to tell which end is up.
Look, maybe I’m going about this all wrong. Maybe there are some film scholars out there who can find the artistic merit in all of this. Great for them. To everyone else, I’d advise you not to bother. This film just isn’t worth the effort.