Weekend Film Recommendation: Rubber

You probably never gave it a moment’s thought. But all great films, without exception, contain an important element of ‘no reason.’ You know why? Because life itself is made up of tons of ‘no reason.’

As a car slowly drives toward the camera, it knocks over a dozen chairs placed in its path before it comes to a halt. Lieutenant Chad (played by Stephen Spinella) steps out of the trunk, approaches the audience, and in the very first scene he reveals the punchline and purpose of the film you’re about to watch. This, he tells us, is an “ode to ‘no reason.’” This weekend’s film recommendation is Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber (2010).

Whether you enjoy this film is going to be completely determined by your tolerance and appetite for absurdity. A rubber tire, played by Robert the Tire (no, I’m not kidding), mysteriously acquires life after a period of slumber in the desert. Upon waking, its newfound ability to move freely inspires curiosity, wonder, and a fascination with the world’s vastness. It learns quickly that this is a world of beauty and of fragility; much like a child’s interest with the way a dinner plate will break into pieces when dropped on the ground, the car tire playfully explores the way a plastic bottle will crush under its weight as it rolls along its way.

But vivacity is not the only extraordinary feature distinguishing this car tire from the rest. It learns that it also has the ability to summon terrifying violence, by causing things to explode at will. At first, the destruction is limited to inanimate objects …then, when it learns the pleasure of crushing a scorpion under its tread, it soon acquires a taste for killing animals, and then people, too. This tire is nothing less than a head-exploding psychopath. Maybe it kills for pleasure; maybe it kills for purpose. Maybe, however, it kills for ‘no reason.’

We aren’t the only audience members watching the show. A group of gullible tourists joins our enjoyment of the spectacle from afar. But neither do they deserve to be called audience members, nor do they deserve status as members of the cast. Theirs is a peculiar relationship to this story: the plot continues only because they are watching, as though their attention is what drives the plot; on the other hand, they will intervene when the story begins to go off-track.

The audience-within-the-spectacle conceit therefore disrupts the rules of movie-making twice over. First, they flagrantly disregard the fourth wall, and they do so for ‘no reason’ that’s discernible. Second, they reverse an established premise of story-telling: the story isn’t supposed to exist because we watch it, as happens here; rather, the story’s universe is supposed to exist in fiction all along, and we merely happen to view but one chapter in an ongoing fantasy. It makes no darned sense.

Irrespective of whether you buy the Schrödinger’s cat premise, Rubber violates many of the rules of story-telling. Just as Lieutenant Chad deliberately abuses the rules of chess, Rubber up-ends the rules of fiction both knowingly and playfully. Rules, you see, are for the pitiable wretches who stand on silly distracting formalities like purpose and sense and consistency, when this is a world that rejects all three.

With a film as nonsensical as this, you could easily spend too much time trying to divine whether there is some smart satirical commentary underneath it all. There are certainly some strong contenders for the object of such mockery. Given the abundant clichés drawing on B-movie horror flicks, perhaps it’s the craft of movie-making. Given the final scene, perhaps it’s Hollywood itself. Or, given the absurdity of sitting through 82 minutes of a one-trick-pony film of this sort, maybe the brunt of the joke is the very act of watching movies itself. I’m being true to the theme and style of the film when I repeat myself, yet again, in reminding you there really is ‘no reason.’

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Johann Koehler

Johann Koehler is a doctoral student in the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He tweets at @KoehlerJA.