If, like me, you are a cinephile, then I wish for you to take a brief moment to imagine the following film. Imagine that Luis Bunuel around about his Mexican time period (when he was making a lot of films in the desert) suddenly came across a young producer by the name of Roger Corman. Imagine that Corman asked Bunuel if he would be interested in writing a movie with a promising young man named Pynchon. Imagine finally, that Bunuel and Pynchon wrote that movie for Corman, that Bunuel directed it, and that David Lynch supervised the editing process. You might very well come out with Quentin Dupieux’s flawed but immensely entertaining ‘Rubber‘.
As everyone who has heard of ‘Rubber’ is well aware, the film centers around a psychopathic tire named Robert with telekinetic abilities. That in itself was enough to make me want to see it. What is pleasantly surprising about the film is that the psychopathic tire is only the beginning. The film opens with a character addressing an on-screen audience, touting the need for a factor of ‘no reason’ in the greatest of films. The lack of reason for Robert to become ambulatory, much less murderous, is what drives the plot. Why does Robert wake up, shake off the sand that has covered him, and begin rolling across the desert? No reason. Why does he suddenly discover a destructive ability to explode things (bottles, bunnies, people’s heads) just by … well, shaking a lot, but the implication is that he does it with his mind? No reason. If the lack of reason in the film is meant to comment on the malaise of modern filmgoing, then there’s a problem. But if, as I suspect, it is meant to be exactly what it says it is (an homage to No Reason), then it is remarkably successful.
That on-screen audience provides the highest dosage of meta commentary, as audience members (standing in the desert watching Robert’s progress) comment on the action. And here the movie lags, then threatens to disappear up its own tail-pipe. On-screen audiences show up far too much in cinema to be unique, although handing them binoculars and then torturing them in various way is a nice conceit. Their comments neither move the action along, nor contribute to the enjoyment of the off-screen audience. They are too self-conscious to be interesting, and the scenes centred around them become increasingly wooden and dull. And about mid-point through, the entire film becomes derailed to concentrate on this audience in an overlong scene of metafiction. The fact is, we really want to see what Robert will do next, not what the audience members think he will do next, nor how aware the characters are that they’re in a movie.
Robert is the most developed character, as we watch him come to life, discover his powers, discover sex, discover death and destruction, suffering and excitement. Without speaking a word, without having a face or eyes or being anything other than a tire, he manages to evoke sympathy, terror, humor, and a good amount of self-awareness. One gets the sense that Dupieux’s interests lie in the same place and that he was suffering from too much cleverness when he added in the running commentary. If only he let Robert do the talking, the film would have rolled along much better. As it is, though, I cannot resist the sheer enjoyment of watching a tire best humanity, without speech and finally without reason.
I’m assuming that ‘Rubber’ can be viewed in theatres, but it can also be downloaded from iTunes. Really, it is well worth it.