Monday, July 11, 2011

A Killer Tire Blows People Up ... For No Reason -- Reflections on "Rubber" (2011)

Watch out, coppers, Robert's about to blow shit up!

Why was E.T. brown? Why didn't the victims use the restroom and wash their hands in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Why did the shooter kill JFK?

These are the sorts of questions asked right off the top in Rubber.

And the answer is just as strange as the questions themselves: "no reason."

"This film is a homage to the 'no reason,'" Lieutenant Chad tells a group of spectators armed with binoculars and rampant curiosity. And this film most certainly lives up to its billing. Everything happens seemingly for no reason, from characters randomly spilling water to car tires suddenly taking on a life of their own.

Rubber is strange, absurd, frustrating, and simply awesome. I can't remember the last time I watched a movie and found myself saying: "I've never seen this before."

Basics: A tire named Robert comes to life and discovers he has psychokinetic powers. He rolls and shimmies his way around the desert, blowing up rabbits and birds until he lays eyes on the beautiful Sheila (Roxane Mesquida). He follows her to a desert motel where he tries to make his move, but every time he is cockblocked, he exacts his revenge. Why does all this happen? No reason.

Sending a Message to Hollywood: One of the cool tricks up director Quentin Dupieux's sleeve in Rubber is his willingness to break the fourth wall and acknowledge that we are watching a film. The film opens with a group of people hanging out in the desert, watching the events of this film unfold. They are surrogates for the audience and go through the same crap we do when we go to a movie -- incessant talking by know-it-alls, clamoring kids dragged into an inappropriate movie by dumb parents, and obnoxious teenagers. They are nonplussed by what they are seeing, inviting us to make the connection -- movies these days are total shit. Halfway through the film we discover that the exhibitors/producers of this film have a evil plan for the audience, which seems to imply that not only does Hollywood produce crap, but that the studios want to kill us with it, too. The satire is funny and sharp. Just wait until you watch the group of spectators tear into a turkey like the zombies from Night of the Living Dead. It's sublime.

On Building Character: Having just endured both Transformers 3 and The Zookeeper, Rubber came as a breath of fresh air. It was amazing to me that in 82 minutes, this film was able to take an inanimate object and make it a more fleshed-out, interesting character than any of those other films had to offer, either human or non. By the end of the film, you actually come to care for Robert, our homicidal tire. He's impulsive, angry, romantic, and curious, yet he never says a word or has any CGI expressions. All we're given is a vibration and a few clever sound effects when he's using his powers and it's evident what he's thinking and feeling. There's something strangely touching, albeit remarkably perverse, as we watch Robert spend some time peeping on an unsuspecting Sheila as she gets ready to take a shower in a desert motel. Robert just wants to be loved. And he's willing to blow up a lot of heads to get it.

Look for Other Homages: One of the fun things about Rubber is that the filmmakers give shout-outs to other films as well, from the exploitation films of Roger Corman to the Night of the Living Dead. Upon re-watch, I'm sure other tributes will become more evident, but on my first viewing, I saw visual nods to The Graduate, Psycho, Leaving Las Vegas, E.T. Rear Window, Duel and Christine. Obviously Quentin Dupieux loves movies, and it shows throughout Rubber.

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