Rubber (2010): An Absurdist Homage to “No Reason”

“Are you TIRED of the expected?” asks the tagline for Rubber (2010), the tale of a murderous tire sprung from the mind of Quentin Dupieux. As someone who not only likes, but actually self-admittedly adores a good pun, this tagline assured that I would at least check this movie out. It reminded me of possibly the wittiest line in Hobo with a Shotgun (2011), a newspaper headline that reads: “Hobo Stops Begging, Demands Change.” The laugh I got out of that bit was worth the entire movie (although let’s be clear – I still loved the D-grade homage to B-movies). Beyond being merely clever, the Rubber line perfectly describes the viewing experience the audience is in for: nothing in this movie is expected. I mean that as a compliment, but others may instead find it maddening.

Synopsis: On paper, nothing could be more straightforward: a cognizant tire goes on a murderous rampage, and the police must find the killer and stop it before more innocent lives are lost.

The opening monologue is an ideal introduction to the movie. Preceded by a brilliant breaking of the fourth wall (sort of), in which Dupieux gets in a dig at Oliver Stone and a stunningly hilarious misinterpretation of The Pianist (2002), it sets the stage well:

“All great films, without exception, contain an important element of No Reason. And you know why? Because life itself is filled with No Reason… Ladies, gentlemen, the film you’re about to see today is an homage to the No Reason, that most powerful element of style.”

This is simultaneously directed at us, the audience at home, and at “the spectators”, the audience on location, watching the film unfold “live”. The action diverges at this point. One plotline follows our villain, the tire. Or it might be the hero, depending on how you feel about the other characters. At any rate, No Reason is abound. Why does this particular tire develop the ability to self mobilize? No reason. And I cannot explain why watching a tire learn to roll, similar to watching a foal learn to walk, is so funny, but it is. Why is it instantly aggressive to every creature/object it encounters? No reason. Why can it telepathically explode things with its mind? No reason. But having accepted the premise of the tribute, who cares? Especially when the results are this creative and refreshingly fun? Through simple camera angles, a well-timed pause, and a slow turn of the tire, Dupieux infuses the tire with more personality than Lucas could fit in all the Star Wars prequels combined (I know easy target, and you may ask yourself, “K, is it really necessary to keep beating this dead horse?” To which I reply, yes, especially now that it has been irrefutably proven that a tire would have been a better addition to the cast than Jar Jar Binks). This tire likes blowing shit up and watching TV (it’s particularly fond of workout videos and Nascar)… basically it’s a redneck without the neck. I previously learned that pigs make lousy movie villains; it turns out that tires, in the right hands, are exceptionally witty villains (with killer comedic timing). And the joy we feel as an audience, watching the tire cheerfully roll along the road after discovering its powers, is a testament to Dupieux’s vision; he is successful in getting his audience to identify with a tire.

The other story the movie follows is that of the spectators, and here is where I think Dupieux will lose a lot of viewers. Initially, the spectators act almost as a Greek chorus, elucidating plot details for the confused audience (one would assume). “Oh! The tire has telekenetic powers, and that’s how it blows bunnies up!” See? Helpful stuff. I thought that the spectators could easily get annoying, as they often conduct themselves in the manner of a regular movie audience – as Shepard Book would say, “there is a special place in Hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk during the theater.” But then things with the spectators go sideways, and their role becomes a lot more intricate and confusing. They begin to interact with the action unfolding before them in interesting ways, and it is made clear that there is a direct relationship between the spectators themselves and the creation/continuation of the film. I can see many film viewers becoming completely lost at this point, and I will admit that I was also unsure of what Dupieux was trying to say. However, I have learned many times over that there are people much more clever than I, and my confusion does not automatically indicate ineptitude on their part.

Samuel Beckett was among the many who taught me that, and a Beckett play is the closest experience with which I can compare this film. That is not to imply similar levels of skill or quality – I’d have to understand the film in order to do that. But Dupieux is obviously a fan of absurdist entertainment such as Beckett. Like Waiting for Godot, Rubber was hilarious, thought-provoking, and just straight up bizarre. And like Godot, I am left with questions and uncertainties of the writer’s intentions. Perhaps Dupieux was just blowing smoke, and I, like a fool, was taken in by the overall wit of the film. But I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he is saying more than I am able to deduce from one viewing, if only because he had the balls to make a movie with a tire as a central character.

It is not a perfect movie experience. Sure, sometimes the shots of the tire, rolling about his business, are a little long (even with a running time of 82 minutes, there’s a little padding, although kudos to the filmmakers for recognizing the limits and keeping it short). Sure, the purpose of (and what happens to) the spectators is a little opaque. Rubber has a clear audience who will adore it for its inventiveness and verve, and others should probably steer (ha!) clear. From this review, you should be able to determine what camp you are in. I’ve already started construction on my teepee in the former camp.

Best Scene: The final scene is just too funny, but I don’t want to give it away.

Key Quote: The sheriff, pointing to a tire, “This is what our killer looks like.”

Runner-up: “You’re nothing but a rubber shit.”

Fun fact: The film was almost universally reviewed poorly at Cannes film festival. Which means either I’m a complete film idiot, or they missed the point. I’m OK, either way.

Til the next,

K

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~ by K. Harker on April 10, 2011.

One Response to “Rubber (2010): An Absurdist Homage to “No Reason””

  1. […] (slashfilm.com)Critics love gripping new movie about a psycho tyre (etyres.co.uk)Rubber (2010): An Absurdist Homage to “No Reason” (errantcinephile.wordpress.com)//LinkWithinCodeStart var linkwithin_site_id = 508133; var […]

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