***Spoiler Warning*** Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and throw a full-on spoiler alert up here, because I don’t think there’s any way to properly discuss this movie without delving into aspects of it that are going to give away some crucial plot points and twists, including events leading up to the ending, so if you haven’t yet seen it and plan to (hey, it’s on Netflix streaming and other outlets, so it’s not like it’s that hard to see) you might want to go watch it first before you read this. You have been warned. ***End Warning***
So a couple of days ago, I received an email from a friend of mine referencing Quentin Dupieux’s 2010 film Rubber. In it he said “Remember this movie from a few years ago? I watched it over the weekend, on Netflix. Egads. It was… Really bad… I don’t think I have what it takes to understand what the critics saw in this flick. You ever see it?”
Yeah, of course I remembered the movie. I’d seen the trailers before it came out, had intended to see it when it hit the big screens, but conflicting schedules wound up not allowing that, and it’s been sitting in my Netflix streaming queue for a long time, but for some reason I’d simply just never gotten around to hitting that “watch now” button and actually viewing the film.
Well, since I’m sitting here writing about the movie, I suppose you can probably guess that I’ve since remedied that situation, and, rather than answer my friend’s question directly, have chosen to share my thoughts on it not only with him, but with you. Hey, that’s just the generous kind of guy that I am.
So what did I think about the flick? Do I agree with my friend’s assessment of it as “Really bad”? Well, let’s just say that just like a lot of the critical assessment of the film has been incredibly divided on the topic, this is one of those cases where I think my friend and I are going to have to agree to disagree.
Or, to put it another way, I really enjoyed the heck out of this film.
Now don’t get me wrong, this is certainly not a film for everyone, and I am willing to acknowledge that up front, and I can see, knowing my friend as I do, lots of reasons that he wouldn’t feel the same way, but for me, this truly is a little gem of a movie.
Okay, so let’s go ahead and get the “So what’s it about” part of this out of the way first. Well, the one-line “elevator pitch” version of the movie’s plot would probably be something along the lines of “It’s about a tire that becomes a serial killer”. Yes, I said a tire.
Obviously, simply knowing that, one has to also know that we’re heading into the realm of absurdity, and that is not only the case, but to a large extent, the point. And for me, really that’s all that I had to know to immediately put this on my to watch list.
So, taking that utterly simple and admittedly ridiculous premise, where does one go from there? Well, first one begins by ignoring the movie’s opening scene which shows a sheriff’s car approaching, an officer getting out of the trunk, and then asserting that quite often things happen in movies for “no reason”, and that what we are about to see is a film full of “no reason”. Actually, it turns out that though the officer is looking directly into the camera when he delivers this monologue so that it appears that he is addressing us, he is instead speaking to an audience that has been gathered on a hillside to watch the film unfold through binoculars which they are each given. Either way, however, it quickly becomes apparent that this is largely a misdirect (as are many things in the movie) on the part of Dupieux, because there is very little in the movie that can be considered truly random or that is without purpose.
So what, exactly, is it that these people have gathered to watch? Well, it appears to be an awakening. When we first see “Robert” (that’s the name given to the tire that is the focus (for the most part) of the rest of the film given during the end credits) it appears that he is just awakening to his own sentience. Seemingly abandoned there in the desert, the tire begins to shake a bit, then rises from its side to a vertical position, much like a toddler learning how to stand on its own for the first time, and that is an image that holds through the entire next sequence, as we see him (yes, I’ll probably use the pronouns somewhat interchangeably during this write-up, though, as will soon become apparent, there can be no doubt that this tire is all-too-male) begin to take his first tentative steps.
(Another quick aside: I say that Robert is taking his “first steps” – of course, since we’re talking about a round rubber tire, the image is actually of it rolling and falling, then getting back up again, but since the sequence so well mirrors the efforts again of a toddler who is just learning to walk, that’s how I’m referring to it.)
Once Robert begins to gain more confidence in his ability to walk on his own, what it the next thing he does? Well, as would be the case with any child, he begins to explore his environment, seeking to define the world around him and discover its hazards.
At first very wobbly, but quickly mastering the art of rolling, Robert wanders somewhat aimlessly along the desert until he encounters his first obstacle, a tossed aside, partially crushed water bottle. One can almost see the thoughts forming in his mind: “What do I do now?” “Should I detour around this? Is this already the end of the road for me?” Tentatively approaching the bottle, the tire soon realizes that it can simply roll over the object and continue on its journey. This discovery renews his self-confidence, and the next time he encounters a possible impediment, in the form of an unfortunate scorpion which wanders in front of it, he is much less hesitant and simply rolls over the critter, crushing it, and continuing on his merry way.
Though this may at first seem like a simple random encounter, it’s also an indication of things to come, as it’s not only apparent that in rolling over the scorpion, Robert does indeed crush and kill it, but also that the encounter is one that, once passed, gives the tire no second thoughts. Yes, stepping on a scorpion may seem a small thing, and might be the same reaction that many of us might also have, but again, as time (and the film) goes on this really is a first indication that though the tire may have achieved a kind of sentience, it has not, in parallel, developed any kind of conscience. By definition, Robert is a psychopath who will let nothing stand in the way of his desires.
Just as significant is the next obstacle which the tire encounters: a beer bottle. Now to you and I, that may not seem like much of an obstacle, but to a tire which has just learned to roll along on its own, it proves quite a frustration, as this is the first thing that proves to be something that cannot simply be rolled over. So what is the tire to do now? Well, again reverting to his childlike state, Robert throws a tantrum. Of course, unlike a human child, who would perhaps fling himself to the ground kicking and screaming (hey, it’s hard to kick and scream when you have neither legs to kick with nor a mouth with which to scream), Robert resorts to another toddler-like behavior, and begins to simply shake in a sort of impotent rage.
Except in this case, the tire’s rage isn’t truly impotent, because that’s when he (and we) learns that along with the ability to walk and reason, he has developed a psycho-kinetic ability to focus that rage which manifests itself in the bottle exploding, thus allowing him to move along unimpeded.
Okay, so imagine for a moment that you are a child who has learned to walk, grown a bit, and has learned not only that there is a larger world around you, but that you have the ability to affect that world in a new and unexpected way. What’s your next step? Well, obviously, you begin to explore the limits not only of the world, but of the ways that you can use this new power.
Well, remember when I mentioned that Robert was something of a psychopath? Yeah, well, this is where that tendency begins to show itself, as, among the tires next few encounters, he not only blows up random objects, he also causes a passing rabbit to explode into meaty chunks, seemingly for no reason other than to see if he can. And again, this is done with neither hesitation nor remorse, but is shown simply as something he does.
The next encounter that Robert has, however, is a bit more significant, as he finally reaches the road, and begins rolling down it. At first this seems like a wonderful thing, as it makes traveling much easier than having to navigate the desert sands. Unfortunately, it also proves more hazardous, as Robert begins to encounter things much larger than he is – namely, cars and trucks. Up until this point, all of his interactions have been with objects and creatures smaller than himself, so how will his powers affect these larger beings? That’s exactly what he undertakes to find out, and the answer seems to be that though he can’t simply blow them up. He can however, cause a passing car to stall out, which it itself is a pretty significant achievement. That victory is short-lived, though, as just as he is approaching the car he has just stopped, a passing truck sideswipes him, bouncing him from the road and back into the sand. This also causes him to lose the control that he has on the stalled car, and it’s driver, played by the lovely Roxane Mesquida, is able to restart it and continue on her way.
Did I mention that nothing in this film happens without a purpose? Yeah, well then you can bet that though both of these people may seem to simply pass Robert by, they will eventually show up again, and in very significant ways. But before we get into that, there’s some other business that needs to be taken care of. namely, we need to return to the audience that has been watching all of this unfold.
See, that’s completely another aspect of this film that invites more than simple casual viewing. Because not only do we get to see the story of Robert the tire unfold, we are also given the reactions of those who are given the chance to watch these events unfold.
Now, I can understand why some people consider this to be the weakest part of the film, or why others feel that these characters, who are obviously meant to be stand-ins or caricatures of typical movie-goers are a bit too spot-on or perhaps too “cute” a move on the part of Dupieux in an attempt to, in a way, make the film criticism-proof by providing his own critique as the movie rolls (excuse the unintentional pun) along. However, as they eventually become more and more integral to the way events unfold, they are actually a very important part of not only the overall film, but also the movie that is being made below.
Of course, most of them do this through dieing, (or, more accurately by being killed by the filmmakers – or at least their stand-ins, Chad the policeman and the nameless accountant), rather than through their comments, but the lone survivor definitely takes a very active hand in the climax of the movie.
So yeah, there is definitely a reason for including them into the film, and to revisiting them throughout.
Okay, with that out of the way, lets return to our protagonist (and yes, by that I mean the tire) as he hits three more very important milestones in his life.
The first of these is puberty. Yes, you read that right, I said the tire hits puberty. Having already grown from newborn to toddler to youngster exploring his world and his place in it, isn’t that really the next logical step? So how is this represented in the film? Well, remember when I mentioned that the driver of the car that initially fascinates Robert is Roxane Mesquida, playing a character named Sophie? Well, all it really takes is for Robert to get one good glimpse of the lovely Ms. Mesquida to impel his curiosity and to convince him that he wants to see more of her, which he eventually manages to do, by recognizing her car in the parking lot of a motel that she has stopped at for the night, and proceeding to play Peeping Tom while she, unaware of her rubber-coated admirer takes a shower.
(Hey, he may be a tire, but, as I noted way up top, he’s also definitely male.)
The second important encounter which leads to another milestone in his development is the moment that he catches up to the driver of the truck who so callously sideswiped him and bounced him from the road unfortunately, this meeting is one that has more dire consequences. You see, whereas you or I might, upon catching up with such a person, might try to take some sort of revenge, there are two important differences between us and Robert. The first, of course, is that, being a tire, he can’t simply walk up to him and say something like “Hey, what’s the big idea?!” and challenge him to a fight. The second is that we are (presumably anyway) not psychokinetic psychopaths.
So what’s a poor tire to do in such a situation? Well, for this particular one, the answer becomes obvious: focus your rage and make your antagonist’s head explode.
Yes, once again, you read that right, he blows the truck drivers head clean off of his body and explodes it into thousands of bits of gore.
(By the way, I should stop here in passing and simply note that the exploding head effects, and really all of the preceding and subsequent gore effects as exceedingly well done. They prove to be convincing enough considering the budget for the film, but never really crosses the line into the truly offensive. Again, this is a horror-comedy film, not some kind of torture-porn that feels the need to dwell upon the truly nasty aspects of what is going on, and that integrity of tone is another thing that really helps this film.)
The third major encounter that Robert faces which shapes the outcome of this film? A Holocaust. Yea, I capitalized that word. And yes,I did it for a reason. How else would you describe seeing hundreds of beings just like you being casually, even gleefully thrown onto fires and destroyed? That is exactly the scene that Robert encounters when he catches a glimpse of a huge bonfire and stops to investigate further. It turns out that the fire is being used by a couple of redneck-types to destroy a batch of old tires.
So how does our singular tire react? Well, having already established that he is a psychokinetic psychopath with a callous disregard for human life, there really is only one reaction that can be expected.
Yep, it’s time for a bit of serial killer rampage.
Okay, at this point I really can’t go any further without completely spoiling the rest of the film for those of you who have not seen it, but might have read this far and had your curiosity peaked enough to think it might be worth giving a go, and hopefully I’ve also managed to answer my friend’s question about what there is to see in the film. (As a matter of fact, I’ll take just a line here to challenge him to give the movie a re-watch with all of the above in mind.) Let’s just leave it at saying that I think Dupieux does an excellent job of bringing all of these threads together in a way that I, personally, found completely entertaining.
I will, however concede one point. There is a part of me that feels that the movie does go on just three or four minutes too long. There is a final scene, which, while perhaps somewhat obligatory and in keeping with the horror-movie tradition that the film springs from may be considered a necessary coda, but which, had the choice been mine, I probably would have left out. But it is certainly not something that is in any way enough to “break” the film.
Oh, and for those of you who have read all of this and are still left wondering “Okay, but why make a movie about a serial-killing tire in the first place?” To those who are still sitting there thinking to yourselves Why a frik-frakkin tire?!” Well, to you, I really have only one answer: “Why not?” Or perhaps what I should actually say is, of course, the same answer we are given at the start of the film:
Hmm… maybe that opening speech has its place in the movie after all.
- Netflix Movie Review: Rubber (eagleviewnews.com)
- Rubber (2010) (lwitfilm.wordpress.com)
- Movie Review | ‘Rubber’: The Tread Life on This Tire Is Something Else (feeds.nytimes.com)
- Movie Review – Rubber (fernbyfilms.com)