When a film comes along that is as unapologetically violent as it is absurd, it’s bound to get some notice. Case in point for Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber. A film that revels in its own weirdness, Rubber strives to push the boundaries of what ridiculous really can mean. Rubber is part genre-study and part commentary on movies in general. It may not be the best time you’ll have at the movies, but it should certainly be the weirdest.
Rubber is the story of Robert, a discarded tire who inexplicably rises from a pile of trash in the desert, fully alive and self-aware. Quickly Robert displays his contempt for other living things when he uses his psychic powers to blow up anything and anyone who happens to cross his path. When Robert grows tired of using his psychokinetic talents on desert wildlife, he turns his ire on people. Robert becomes the perpetrator of a spree of murders, literally blowing up heads left and right. Stopping the evil tire becomes tasked to police officer Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) and the beautiful young girl Sheila (Roxane Mesquida) who Robert has been following. The stage becomes set for a final showdown with Robert the Tire, all while a literal audience watches the madness unfold from afar through pairs of binoculars.
From the very beginning, Rubber makes it clear that it is a self-aware film with little intention of taking itself too seriously. Lieutenant Chad actually attempts to rationalize the film’s insanity by speaking directly to the screen and demonstrating the constant that occurs in all cinema. He explains that things happen in movies for “No reason.” He very literally sets the tone for the entirety of the film in the first five minutes. It’s a funny introduction, and it does a great job of getting audiences genuinely involved in the story of a murderous tire. Rubber’s narrative revolves around breaking the fourth wall as much as it does Robert himself. Not only is Lieutenant Chad a character who is completely aware of the fact that he’s in a movie, but there’s an actual audience within the movie interacting with the characters. As far as narrative experiments go it’s generally humorous, but real life audiences might find it more alienating than clever. Especially when the fictional audience’s participation takes a darker turn, a narrative choice that seems to be pointlessly bleak.
But back to Robert the tire. Here’s a villain to remember: a remorseless killing machine with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Robert is the funniest part of the movie and every time he graphically blows up somebody’s head it gets a laugh. When he’s not exploding brains Scanners-style, he’s watching TV. He seems to enjoy racing, but why wouldn’t he? He’s a tire. Generally, Rubber is more enjoyable when Robert is on screen instead of the other characters. That might be expected since the tire itself is the concept driving the film, but saying that a violent spare tire is more interesting than any of the human actors in a film may not be considered the highest praise.
Rubber is a truly unique film and difficult to compare to anything else. Audiences interested in the film to start with should already have a good idea to what they’re getting into, but for most others it is hard to find much to recommend. While it has many sincerely humorous moments, the joke does begin to wear thin before the finale. However, those who are tired of the same old thing and enjoy seeing conventions flipped head-over-heels will be bound to find something to like about Rubber. Just check your common sense at the door.