Quentin Dupieux’ (a/k/a musician, Mr. Oizo) newest feature about a rogue tire-turned-serial killer and obsessed stalker, is everything cinema should be, but more often is not.
A TIRE? you ask.
Yes. You heard correctly, and believe it or not there’s enough in this 82-minute powerhouse to keep everyone happy – no matter what their appetite for the weird or absurd. All that’s asked of the audience is to pay strict attention, and to keep an open mind.
Briefly put, Rubber(2010) is the story of a film director/Lieutenant, dressed as a small town sheriff, who is shooting a movie in the desert. His crew and cast consist of a bootlicking Production Assistant/Accountant and several actors portraying deputies. A large audience, one of which is wheelchair bound, are given binoculars and told to stand at the top of a hill and await the show. In the meantime, a tire arises on its own, falters, and then steadies itself as it proceeds along a desert road. It soon encounters a discarded can, which it slowly and cautiously, flattens. Next, it spots a small sand creature and slowly tramples that. It is when the tire discovers a glass beer bottle that slaughter becomes more difficult – and a shift in technique becomes necessary. It is also here, that the tire discovers innate, telekinetic powers, and from then on, anything or anyone in its path is blown to smithereens, at its increasingly more aggressive will.
What makes Rubber strangely disturbing, if not out and out threatening to viewers both within and outside the film, is the subtle ambiguity of what is being shown. In other words, discriminating between what is ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’ within the movie becomes increasingly difficult when it is unclear who the sheriff’s players and crew are – and if the audience is in fact made up of his actors as well. Even more discomforting is that the tire may not be the only murderer in the film.
It’s not that Dupieux asks us to believe more than we can bear, not even when the tire develops an obsessive crush on a beautiful woman with a checkered lifestyle. Certainly, filmmakers Jan Svankmajer (Little Otik), the Brothers Quay (The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes) and even Tinto Brass (The Howl), demand far more of our imagination by their plots and shenanigans. But what makes Rubber perhaps more traumatic, is that we are implicated in the crimes, as the movie-going public. This is magnificently displayed in the film, when the Production Assistant proceeds to kill off his always hungry, ever-manipulated audience with a large turkey dinner. When the ravenous crowd lights upon the meal, like in the pig-roasting scene from Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies (1963), a very unsettling feeling creeps into our hearts and remains there. Unfortunately for Dupieux’ Production Assistant – Does he kill on his own, or at the request of the filmmaker? – the wheelchair-bound viewer (Wings Hauser) does not eat the turkey and is the last, very demanding, critic/spectator sitting (no pun intended).
Though Rubber can be appreciated at both its literal and symbolic level, and is one of the most provocative films in recent history, it is an acquired taste. This strongly written, stupendously acted, cult gem should be seen more than once for a full appreciation of its brilliance and humor. And keep a watchful eye on the gifted Mr. Oizo, a filmmaker destined for a sparkling future.
Amy R. Handler is a Boston-based film-maker, film scholar, writer and critic.