Rubber is about a sentient tire named Robert that rolls around the highways of the American Southwest, becomes infatuated with a young woman, and blows peoples’ heads off via telekinesis. Naturally, when word of this film hit the Internet early last year, people were understandably perplexed and excited; it was the right side of bizarre.
So it would surprise people that the saga of Robert the Telekinetic Tire serves as its own B-story. Rubber revolves around an exercise in the absurd; a kind of deconstruction between audience and filmmaking. Sometimes it’s funny, but more often than not it’s unnecessary and gets in the way of what could have been a very fun film.
As a result, Rubber is part quirky horror comedy, and part absurdist art film. If one were to edit together the homicidal psychic tire parts, it would make for a great short film, the one people paid the price of admission to see in the first place. Unfortunately, writer/director Quentin Dupieux seems more concerned with making an undergraduate philosophical-artistic statement than tell a story that he forsakes the best bits for its worst.
The film opens with the town sheriff (Stephen Spinella) addressing an audience- both a group of binocular-armed bystanders and us- about the reason behind any aspect of a film: Why is E.T’s skin brown? Why do the two main characters in Love Story fall in love? The answer: no reason, which is the driving force behind everything in Rubber.
As far as the scenes involving Robert, “no reason” works. The lack of origin or explication works in Rubber’s favor; we don’t need a reason for why a tire suddenly comes to life, nor do we need to know what his motives are in the first place. After all, pitting a laughable villain that defies all notions of reason and reality against the atypical constraints and conventions of your average horror film would make for proper deconstruction, and would satisfy the curiosity of those intrigued by the films trailer.
Unfortunately, the “no reason” philosophy behind Rubber is its own downfall. Rather than build a story out of his own idea of a homicidal tire, Dupieux renders Rubber a pseudo-postmodern deconstructionist statement that has little to do with its rubber protagonist. I suppose Dupieux did this for “no reason,” but “no reason” is not the same as “no point,” and if the latter is the backbone of a movie, then there is no reason for it to even exist.
Most of Rubber involves some kind of meta-commentary on filmmaking and film watching. There are people watching Robert from a distance, providing stray observations and snarky commentary, and the sheriff goes about his job as though he were on set, acting and reacting as though none of what is going on is real, and that it is all a show. Near the beginning of the film, it is appropriately odd and it works, but as the ruse continues, it takes up most of the film’s space, and it quickly wears out its welcome.
I haven’t the faintest idea what Dupieux is trying to say or do with Rubber. He is not all too concerned with telling a story- at least, not the story of Robert, the reason people attended the film in the first place. Instead, Dupieux seems to be experimenting, but in doing so, he has totally missed the point of filmmaking, storytelling, and deconstructionism. The problem with most self-proclaimed post-modernists is that they misunderstand that deconstructionism is about: deconstructing something in attempt to discover a new way to understand whatever it is you’re looking at. Dupieux, however, is just deconstructing for the sake of leaving something in pieces and calling it art. Despite what some modern artists may think think, leaving something in shambles isn’t art, it’s just a pile.
Manohla Dargis of the New York Times wrote, “By embracing irrationality as his operating principle (or at least by pretending to), Mr. Dupieux lets himself off the narrative hook.” I disagree. Relying on superficial post-modernism does not- nor should it- get you out of providing a narrative; it’s just lazy writing. What’s unfortunate about Rubber is that it had a lot of potential to be a legitimately clever, post-modern genre film, and when Rubber focuses on its initial premise, it is well worth watching.
Note: When he is not making films, Quentin Dupieux is a French DJ who goes by the name “Mr. Oizo.” I’m not sure what most would make of this, but it seems relevant nonetheless.