Rubber (review)

Schrodinger’s Movie

A tire develops sentience. And independent mobility. Be afraid. Because it can also kill you with its mind. Yes, it has a mind. And it enjoys killing you with its mind. Be also amused, in a deeply weird, weirdly deep sort of way. Not so much by the tire that develops sentience — and independent mobility, and homicidal telekenetic powers — but by how Quentin Dupieux gives us this unlikely tale, through a lens of cinematic quantum mechanics, a we-view-it-therefore-it-exists sort of thing.
It’s as if we, the moviegoing audience bored with more traditional fare, willed this ticklishly bizarre film into being.

Maybe we willed the tire into sentience, and mobility, and murder, too.

Maybe we will all movies into existence merely by watching them…?


Yeah, a plain old rubber car tire, the kind you see piled up at gas stations awaiting their various fates (either switched in for a comrade injured in the line of vehicular duty, or off to the dump if they’ve become a casualty). Or sometimes you see them discarded onto the side of the road, as is the case with the tire — let’s call it Tire — when we meet it, somewhere vaguely in the American Southwest. Tire meets world as we meet Tire: there is something ineffably poignant about how Dupieux stages Tire’s awakening, shaking itself conscious and shaking itself out of the sand it’s half buried in. Learning to roll without falling over is sort of adorably sweet — it’s like watching a toddler collapse, unconcerned and undamaged, onto its diaper-padded rear end and immediately clamber up to toddle on some more (before going plop again).

Tire revels in discovering the world: we feel this as effortlessly as we would watching a child doing the same thing. What’s that on the ground? A empty plastic water bottle? What happens when Tire rolls over it? Oooo: a pleasant crunching noise! What happens to the empty glass beer bottle when Tire rolls over it? Nothing at all. Tire is perplexed, then angry, and throws a little rubber tantrum that manifests itself physically, in a wobbly sort of trembling, and psychically, as the rage directed at the impertinent bottle makes it break.

This is a breakthrough for Tire, a triumph, and it happily rolls off to explore the world some more, and make some more things explode. Like bunnies. And people’s heads. You know, just for fun, and because Tire can.

And that’s all wonderfully strange and unsettling, for sure, but it’s nothing — nothing — to the rest of it. The stuff that’s off to the side of this, on multiple narrative and meta levels. For Rubber opens with us being addressed by a odd police officer (Stephen Spinella: Milk, House of D), who monologues on the irrationality of movies. At first it seems that this is meant to serve as an explanation, an excuse — indeed, even an apology — for the story about the tire we’re about to see: If Rubber is an homage to the “no-reason” that is behind everything we see or don’t see in all movies, then there can be no purpose in complaining about the plausibility of anything we see here.

But nothing so simple or so crass is at work here. For it transpires that the cop is not talking to us in the viewing audience, but to– well, I won’t spoil that for you, because the discovery slowly unfolds in ways that will make your head explode. Figuratively, I mean. It has to do with how the watching of the other events here — Tire awakening, Tire making people’s heads explode, etc — affects those events. Like if the movie has been directed by Schroedinger: you know, the physicist with the hypothetical cat that is either dead or alive but we can’t know which till we look at it.

And then… and then you realize that some of the cop’s examples about the no-reason behind things that happen in the movies, things that seemed just plain silly when you first heard them, make you go “whoa,” too. One of his examples is about Oliver Stone’s JFK, in which — the cop “reminds” us — suddenly, out of nowhere, for no reason, someone shoots the President.

Except that that really happened in real life, and it doesn’t happen for no-reason in JFK — in fact, it’s the entire reason the story is being told to us by Oliver Stone. And that’s what Rubber is all about, too: It’s a story that exists for its own reason. It is its own justification. The fact that Dupieux can, merely with camera angles and lightning, make a sentient homicidal tire sympathetic is another joke, sure, but it’s also its own reason for the movie. Because Dupieux could do that, he must have already done it.

Or something. We’re talking cinematic quantum physics here. No one understands it. But it sure is fun to think about.

Visit LOVEFiLM today where you can rent, buy or even watch films online. (Rubber is available at LOVEFiLM.)

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