“Rubber” is the story of a tire that gains consciousness and decides to kill. He doesn’t talk, dance, or sing, and he doesn’t develop any lasting relationships with any humans, animals, or fellow tires. How do you tell a story like this? “Rubber” seems to have already asked that question, which is why the first impression of the film is not of the tire itself, but rather the audience.
Driven to the desert, a group of varied citizens gather to watch what will end up being the murderous exploits of Robert the tire. A police officer, or perhaps an actor playing a policeman, informs the audience, our capital S surrogates, that they will be watching a film serving as an experiment of sorts. Asking why the tire kills, the film argues, is the same as asking why the title character in “Jaws” kills. Or, even more nebulously, the tire develops lethal telekinesis because sometimes “things happen for no reason.”
As we watch the audience watch the tire, the many layers at play bounce against each other. The audience has interacted with the policeman, but the very first scene of the movie is a direct address to the camera. So, we are the audience, but we are not in the desert, and we are not holding the binoculars the audience holds. We also never interacted with the policeman, who, after introducing the film, enters the narrative as a cop leading a task force against the tire that has left a trail of death in its wake. We’re not in characters in this movie, right?
The police officer is in hot pursuit of the tire, but seems bewildered by the lack of control he has over the narrative. Nonchalantly driving to the scene of the crime, he finds a dead body that he mistakes for fake. When he informs the fellow officers they are in a movie, they are incredulous, and he orders one of them to shoot him to allow for proof. A bullet enters the officer, but he remains unfazed, claiming it’s “movie magic.” So how do we explain the blood dripping from his shirt pocket?
“Rubber” feels less like a movie and more like a practical joke. Written and directed by Quentin Dupieux, the narrative seems to be less about preserving an internal consistency and more about challenging the straight line it’s supposed to follow. We’re led to believe the police officer, who has some control over the story, is some sort of author, but he too becomes perplexed by the direction events are taking. The tire, whose motives aren’t spelled out until a wickedly funny coda, seems to be in the process of controlling its own movie. And what is a mainstream movie without sex and violence?
The sex seems like the most dicey bit, until Robert catches a sexy drifter (the exquisite Roxane Mesquida) en route through town. The tire hangs out around the corner and watches her shower, distorting any notion of the female gaze when it later appears, on its own, in the same shower. What feels like the unsettling punchline to this sexual exploration is a scene where the tire sits over the rotting corpse of a victim while watching NASCAR on television.
“Rubber” defies categorization, and for that, the film should be commended. Far more than just a “killer tire” movie, clearly the film is contemptuous of the internal logic to make such an outlandish premise conventionally “work.” There will be some digging needed to find the thesis, which is buried under what may or may not be non-sequiturs, not to mention a few can’t-resist dumb gags, but the film moves to its own distinct groove. The score, composed by Dupieux and Gaspard Auge (the latter who belongs French house duo known as Justice), keeps the pace moving at a tense, even funky clip, casting doubt as to whether we’re hearing the music, or if the tire moves to the beat of his own drum. Either way, “Rubber” is probably the strangest film of the year that will still keep your head bopping. [B]