If you think a film about an animate, vaguely anthropomorphic, and deeply murderous tire is just what the doctor ordered, haste thee to the Shattuck Cinemas this coming weekend. If, however, you find the concept outrageous, offensive, or just plain silly, go anyway: I promise you an experience you’ll never forget.
Appropriately scheduled for an April Fools’ Day opening, Rubber is an absurdist comedy directed by French polymath Quentin Dupieux, otherwise known as techno musician Mr. Oizo. (Presumably any resemblance to Exit Through the Gift Shop’s Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash, is purely coincidental).
Dupieux previously produced Nonfilm, a movie in which the lead character is an actor playing a character in a film within Nonfilm who accidentally kills the film within Nonfilm’s crew but carries on production regardless, even though he has neither a script nor a camera with which to do so. Got that?
Rubber explores similar meta-territory. A car meanders slowly down a desert road, methodically knocks over two dozen folding chairs, and comes to a halt. The trunk pops open, and out clambers Police Lieutenant Chad (two time Tony Award-winner Stephen Spinella, a long way indeed from Angels in America).
Looking directly into the camera, Chad breaks the fourth wall and poses a series of questions about cinema. Why is E.T. brown? Why did the characters in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre never wash their hands or go to the bathroom? Why, in Oliver Stone’s J.F.K., was President Kennedy assassinated by a complete stranger? In each case, the answer is the same: no reason.
That weighty issue resolved, Rubber’s focus switches to the audience. No, not the real audience in the auditorium in which you or I might be sitting — the audience in the movie, who have been given binoculars and told to pay attention to a lone tire buried in the sand some distance away. Which, being a good audience, they do.
At first, not much happens. The meta-audience begins to shift uncomfortably and complain about how boring the story is so far.
And then, for no reason whatsoever, the tire stirs.
Freed from the sand, the tire begins to roll. It discovers it has the ability to destroy small animals, insects, and bottles, and becomes obsessed with a mysterious woman (Roxana Mesquida from Catherine Breillat’s The Last Mistress). And the tire will stop at nothing — including killing any humans that get in its way — to win her heart, or perhaps her respect.
As the tire never speaks and maintains a poker tread throughout, it’s hard to know how it really feels. A sublime scene in which its adventures are accompanied by ‘70s soul classic “I Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely” suggests, however, that its heart consists of something more than just steel, nylon, and rubber.
Meanwhile, an accountant (Jack Plotnick) poisons the meta-audience with an adulterated and perhaps deeply symbolic turkey. Assuming there’s now no one left alive to watch, Chad tells his fellow characters that the story is over and that the actors can stop working.
But he’s wrong — one of the meta-audience (wheelchair bound action movie veteran Wings Hauser) wasn’t hungry. He didn’t eat, he’s still watching, and as long as he’s alive the story can’t end. At least, not until the tire is reincarnated as — well, I don’t want to give too much away. Let’s just say the film’s final chilling moments are positively Kubrickian.
As Chad informed us during the prologue, “all great films contain an element of no reason”, which probably means that Rubber is the greatest film ever made. I absolutely adored its Theatre of the Absurd pretensions, and if you’re an admirer of Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, or Spike Milligan, you probably will, too.
You really have no reason to miss it.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.