In Rubber's pre-credits prologue, a man dressed like a cop (Stephen Spinella) climbs out of the trunk of a car and delivers a deadpan monologue in praise of something that he says unites “all great films”: “the element of no reason,” to which, he says, the flick to follow will be an homage. That most of the examples he offers of “no reason” in action suggest a failure to fully comprehend the movie under discussion (“In The Pianist, by Polanski, how come this guy has to hide and live like a bum, when he plays the piano so well? No reason!”) is the first clue that Rubber's methods of address make it far more complicated than any semi-spoofy, quasi-horror film about a murderous inanimate object with inexplicable psychokinetic powers could be expected to be.
Directed by Quentin Dupieux (who moonlights as a filmmaker in between gigs as French electro star Mr. Oizo), Rubber follows the exploits of a tire (listed in the credits as “Robert”) that figures out how to control its own motion, rustling itself up from the spot where it's been abandoned by the side of a road, and then rolls through the desert on a killing spree, blowing shit up with its mind.
Rubber never attempts to explain how Robert got this power or how it works; where a more conventional sci-fi film would dedicate itself to first revealing the source of this threat and then quashing it, Rubber, with its distinctly postapocalyptic vibe, dedicates itself to the suggestion that any explanation would be irrelevant. Anything is possible when everything is falling apart.
Dupieux complicates his “no reason” thesis further by presenting the tire's bloody journey through a framing device. The camera pulls back from that opening monologue to reveal an audience of about a dozen tourists, who have been brought out to the desert to watch Robert's adventures from afar through binoculars. The cop eventually seems to be both acting in and directing this “movie,” as the spectators refer to it, although Robert proves to be a less-than-pliant performer.
Slowly closing the space between the viewers and the “actors” until they're part of the same drama, Dupieux mounts a critique of passive audiences (they're shown literally swallowing whatever they're given), which is also sympathetic to the way they're made to suffer. The voyeurs get what's coming to them — but Dupieux's final images confirm that Hollywood is his real target.
An essay on storytelling and spectatorship within When Inanimate Objects Attack schlock, infused with the haunting aura and disillusionment of a post–Easy Rider road movie, Rubber is some kind of miracle.
RUBBER | Written and directed by QUENTIN DUPIEUX | Magnet Releasing | Nuart