One tire, two reviews.
Rubber is a roadmovie about the most lonesome killer imaginable. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t walk. He doesn’t listen. He just lurks, stalks and… blows things up. His name is Robert, and he was the star of this year’s opening movie for Offscreen Film Festival 2011. Not one, but two of us attended the screening. Hence, another dual-review.
The strange case of Robert, the tire who was just there and didn’t know any better to not blow up people.
Robert comes to life and embraces it on his first baby steps. He just rolls through it without any parental guidance while discovering his abilities. And just like any boy who’s never been told right from wrong, Robert’s just bound to go haywire sooner or later. Very soon, as it turns out. To some people, blowing up a rabbit might still be fun. But blowing up people’s heads…? Even more fun.
It wouldn’t have mattered anyway if anybody had told Robert you simple don’t do these things. Because Robert can’t hear you. He’s made out of rubber. He’s a tire with psychokinetic abilities. And he likes using them. You think he’ll listen when you tell him not to? When Robert starts rolling, you best run the opposite direction, as fast as you can. And if you happen to be a bird or a rabbit, you’re running days are numbered for sure.
Quentin Dupieux‘s second feature film, Rubber, is one you’ll just have to fly with. There’s nothing to really “get” about the premise, because it’s about a tire that comes to life in a movie where virtually everything just happens for no reason. This being the premise, the absurd randomness of events in Rubber are intended. Yet it’s not a hilarious film. It’s a creeping anomaly in second gear, one that manifests itself against the rules of conventional filmmaking. Much like the French nouvelle vague filmmakers of the 1950′s & 1960′s reacted to the Hollywood establishment, Dupieux now seems to mock today’s thrillseeking audiences’ obedience to mainstream cinema as the dictating force in movieland. But he goes beyond this, and uses his form of mockery to break through ‘the fourth wall’. And not just by having one of the main characters explain the genesis of Rubber, the movie, to the audience at the beginning of the film. Dupieux goes ahead and even places the audience inside the movie. Not us, the viewers, of course. But a bunch of spectators, who are simply actors playing… well, us, the viewers. And how they foolishly think that the fiction they are about to watch will not interfere with their lives.
As you can predict, the next 90 minutes Dupieux took the liberty of doing whatever he wanted with his film, because there simply wasn’t any reason for not doing it. Yes, the absurdity of it all. But Rubber, to the contrary of what you might expect, is not a laugh riot. The damned thing plays out like a slow brooding vintage roadmovie thriller, dead serious to the dusty bone. But the language of the film, is that of both a parody and a homage. And those two things, are basically the only intended motives of Rubber. So the film itself, was made with a reason. And now we get to the fun part: spotting all the winks and references in Rubber.
Let’s start with the casting. Dupieux did his homework. Most likely by not doing his schoolwork back in the days, like any good teenager is supposed to, but by watching a lot of genre movies instead. Here we have a tire with psychokinetic powers that just loves to blow up people’s heads Scanner-style all the time. What does Dupieux do? He gets actor Daniel Quinn to play one of the main spectators in the film. Daniel who? He played Samuel Staziak, the detective with scanner powers in both Scanner Cop and Scanner Cop II: Volkin’s Revenge, the two spin-offs – the 3rd & the 4th sequel, respectively – to David Cronenberg‘s original Scanners (1981). And the one name in the opening credits that should have your eyes go pop as big as Jolly Ranchers, is… Wings Hauser. That name alone, should give you an idea of the kind of movies Dupieux grew up on. Either that, or I’m jumping to conclusions and a birdie came flying, whispering in Dupieux‘s ear that Wings was the right man to be in this movie. Or he just went for Mr. Hauser because he couldn’t afford Rutger Hauer to play the part. Either way, good choice.
Some people may argue that Rubber is nothing more than a gimmick exploiting itself for about 90 minutes. And they are absolutely right. But doesn’t that sound like the ultimate tribute to the essence of all vintage exploitation films? Then again, calling Rubber a genuine throwback to the seventies exploitation genre – films like Tobe Hooper‘s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Steven Spielberg‘s Duel – would be inaccurate. That’s just too easy. Too many other films, made more recently, kept popping up. Undeniably, you’ll be thinking of Robert Patrick (aka T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment day, 1991) in a couple scenes when Robert, the unstoppable killer-tire, starts moving. Just listen to the pounding, electronic musical score in those brief moments and you’ll get the picture. Then there’s the shower scene. It doesn’t really matter which movie you might think of, you’ve seen a voyeuristic stalk & lurk sequence like this countless times before. But from now on, everytime you’ll see it again in the umpteenth slasher flick you’re about to watch, you’ll be thinking of Robert, the lurking tire. Not about Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho (1960) or Jason Voorhees anymore. Quentin Dupieux is a funny guy, there’s no denying that, and he got us good with that shower sequence.
For some reason – probably no reason at all – Rubber in general, had me thinking about three films mainly throughout. The first one being Robert Harmon‘s The Hitcher (1986). Just think of Rutger Hauer playing a tire, and you’re thinking along the right vein. Secondly, has anyone ever seen The Car (1977)? Just dismantle that whole demonic horsepower driven black piece of metal on wheels, crush it to a matchbox in a junkyard and leave one rubber tire running. And you have Robert, killing everything he comes across his path. For no reason. These are the two obvious movies to think of. For reasons I can’t explain, a third movie distinctively came to mind when the end credits started rolling. I think Quentin Dupieux‘s Rubber would make a fine double bill with Jonas Åkerlund‘s Spun (2002). Don’t ask me why, try figuring it out yourself. Dupieux & Åkerlund‘s films seem on par with one another, as if the two directors were doing very similar things both within their own, different universes, created for their films respectively. But maybe that’s just me.
Finally, we get to the end of the ride. The very ending of Rubber, the movie. Due to the absurdity of most events and the whole film itself, you kind of forget that this is the way Rubber just had to end. And now, suddenly, another film comes to mind… Spoiler! You wanna know, don't ya...?» . Anyway, if you dig the genres that Rubber constantly rolls through, then you’ll dig its closure too. Otherwise you, the spectator, have been playing in the wrong film for 90 minutes.
I am Rubber, you are Glue. I’ll blow up your head and roll over it, too!
Which two words would you, and hopefully any other reasonable human being, use to describe a movie with a plot synopsis like this: an ordinary rubber tire comes to life in the middle of the Californian desert, quickly discovers that he’s the possessor of dangerous telepathic powers and goes on a murderous stroll. The tire violently blows up people’s heads left, right and centre while a cinematic audience follows his joyful escapades from a safe distance through binoculars. Well, most likely but completely justified you will use the words “absurd” and “random”. The most clever gimmick about this film, however, is that it actually points out the randomness before you even have the opportunity to ponder about it. Rubber opens with an extended spoken monologue by one of the characters and he repeatedly emphasizes the fact that everything in this film happens for absolutely no reason at all. Even more so, Rubber is an hour and a half long homage to randomness. Robert the tire comes to life for no reason. He can make small animals and human heads explode for no reason. He chases a cute brunette girl around for no reason. A group of bizarre people observe him like it’s a real life movie for no reason. You get the picture.
One could claim, of course, that writer/director Quentin Dupieux’ approach is innovative, courageous and humorous. This is true, in fact, but sadly just for a very brief period. The first few images of a seemingly half-drunken tire rolling through the sand and causing cute little bunny rabbits to explode are undeniably hilarious (if you share the same twisted sense of humor, that is) but it becomes dull and derivative enormously fast. The “no reason” gimmick quickly loses its panache and the general fun-factor diminishes. Okay, so there’s a psychopathic tire on a rampage and it doesn’t make any sense. We would have understood that after five exploding heads instead of fifty as well. If Rubber had been a short feature, it would have been equally effective. Perhaps even more. Also, and this might be a purely personal opinion, I don’t really like it when directors hide themselves behind the randomness excuse. Everyone can think up a story that makes absolutely no sense. It’s too easy like that. Obviously I think there are several good things to enjoy about Rubber as well, otherwise I wouldn’t have given the average rating.
The desolate filming locations and complementary references towards older movies are fun to spot. It was also tremendously cool to see former B-movie star Wings Hauser (Night Shadows, Vice Squad,…) in a prominent role again after so long. The special effects and make-up art look adorably cheesy and the electro/experimental soundtrack is quite awesome. The latter quality shouldn’t come too much as a surprise, since writer/director Quentin Dupieux is primarily known as a musician and scored a humongous hit in the late 1990’s as Mr. Oizo with “Flat Beat”.