by SARAH LABRIE
dir. Quentin Dupieux
Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber is a movie about a psychokinetic tire that kills people with its mind. We know the tire — listed in the credits as “Robert” — is about to blow someone up when his rubber tubing vibrates and the film score swells. This happens mostly when people stop Robert from doing the things he likes to do, like taking a shower, or watching television or stalking a beautiful French girl named Sheila. After he wipes out a California desert town, Robert is shot to death by the police and comes back to life as a tricycle. Tricycle Robert advances on Hollywood, an army of reanimated tires in his wake.
“But, why?” is a question Dupieux was smart enough to answer before we could ask it. In Rubber’s opening scene, a character named Lt. Chad (Stephen Spinella) delivers a resolutely nonsensical monologue on the absence of reason. “In the Steven Spielberg movie E.T., why is the alien brown? No reason. In the movie Love Story, why do these two characters fall madly in love? No reason.” Chad goes on like this for a beat too long — “Why are we always thinking? No reason” — and then climbs into the trunk of a rusted Cadillac DeVille. The scene is an explanation and a warning — if pseudo-philosophical absurdity isn’t your thing, now would be a good time to see if you can swap out your seats for tickets to Hop.
The rest of the movie will infuriate a certain type of person, and delight that person’s exact opposite. The dialogue is wooden, the acting, weird, the plot one the Aqua Teen Hunger Force writers would have rejected for being too stupid. But Dupieux never wavers, and it’s his unswerving earnestness that makes the whole thing work. Without it, Rubber would be an irritating experiment in cinematic dada. Instead, it turns into a loving send-up of vintage American road movies, a surrealist spoof that’s just sincere enough to be clever.
Dupieux keeps the homicidal tire conceit from getting old by adding a meta-layer in the form of an audience within the film, a motley assortment of teenaged girls, film nerds and middle-aged moviegoers who comment on the action as it unfolds. We watch them watch as Robert rises from the sand to roll through the desert like a demonic Shel Silverstein creation. First he crushes a water bottle, then a scorpion, then he blows up a rabbit by vibrating at it. The film’s careful camera angles and taut score allow us to revel in Robert’s glee as he discovers the breadth of his destructive powers. It’s strange to come away from a movie realizing you’ve spent the past hour and a half empathizing with a wayward piece of mechanical equipment, but such is the power of Rubber.
Eventually, Robert’s travels lead him to a pretty French tourist (Roxane Mesquida) in a VW rabbit with shag-covered seats. He follows her to a seamy motel and installs himself in the room next to hers. When the cleaning lady tosses him out, Robert, as is his wont, explodes her head. It’s around this point that things start to get weird. The third act is a beautiful, gnarled mess during which each separate element of the plot converges and absolutely nothing gets resolved.
Critics have described the film as a metaphor for everything from mindless consumerism to the disintegration of American film, and probably they’re right, but whatever. It’s a movie about a tire. Too, the amount of effort Dupieux puts into it — a palette so saturated with color that every still looks like a William Eggleston print, a pitch-perfect score that gives Robert his own personality-defining theme song — makes it strong enough to stand up on its own, with or without symbolism.
Either you want to see a metafictional movie about a serial killer tire directed by a french electronic musician (Quentin Dupieux is the real name of French techno producer Mr. Oizo) or you don’t. If you don’t, well then look: Life, as we’ve all figured out by now, is a series of choices. Maybe it’s time for you to start making better ones. Watching Rubber won’t fix all your problems, but it can’t hurt. The experience should leave you feeling reassured. If a movie like this one managed to get distribution, things can’t be all that bad.
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