By Brian Lafferty
May 21, 2011 (San Diego) – Rubber is a portmanteau of the films of Luis Buñuel, David Cronenberg’s Scanners, and the road movie. It requires not only the largest suspension of disbelief but it necessitates putting any attempt at logic back into the furthest reaches of your mind. It is an utterly ridiculous movie but I enjoyed it for exactly that reason.
It opens with a Sheriff giving a spiel about something called the “no reason.” “No reason” explains why Oliver Barrett and Jennifer Cavilleri fall madly in love in Love Story, among other mysterious things. An accountant then hands binoculars to a group of spectators. From a far distance, they watch a tire come to life and use psychokinesis to make animals and human heads explode.
The movie worked for me because it didn’t take itself seriously and because I didn’t take it seriously. Don’t expect any explanations as to why the tire kills, how it comes to life, and the like. As the Sheriff puts it the beginning, the movie is, “An homage to the no reason.” Any attempt to even remotely explain anything would have undermined the film and its delicious absurdity.
The movie also couldn’t succeed without a great team of technicians. The tire is obvious CGI but the special effects people add subtle touches of imitation stop-motion animation. This makes the tire look fake but that’s part of the joke and it makes the movie funnier. If the tire looked realistic, it wouldn’t have been as funny. Instead, I would have taken the movie seriously when I shouldn’t have.
Director Quentin Dupieux (who also was the cinematographer and editor) uses extremely low camera height to add to the tire’s personification. The effects team gives it emotion, despite it not having a face. When it follows the young woman (Roxane Mesquida) its movements and body language signal it’s in love. When it blows things up, it’s not just vibrating but squirming as it’s concentrating.
There were many things I was anticipating and many of them were met. But one thing I did not expect was the surprisingly arresting cinematography. The lighting is crisp, smooth, and not too bright. The colors and lighting aren’t too dry and scorching despite the desert setting. The dusks and dawns are picturesque.
The movie lathers on more unconventionality by incorporating an unusual storytelling device. The events are viewed by a group of spectators who represent the stereotypical young American moviegoer. A young woman asks if the movie will be in black and white or in color. An adolescent kid hopes it’s not, “Some old silent film.” A guy tries to record it but is told that he’s committing piracy and warned of the dire consequences that could befall him.
Writer and director Dupieux, alas, misses a lot of opportunities with the spectators. While he goes full-blast on the absurdity of the tire’s killing spree, he doesn’t devote the same amount of effort with the spectators.
These scenes feel shallow at times. He should have had a lot of fun with these people. I wanted to see more biting commentary on the average young moviegoers’ allergies to anything in black and white or without dialogue. A bonus would have been seeing something about people’s aversion to subtitles.
The freewheeling, boldly ridiculous script tempers these concerns, fortunately. The laughs help, too.
Rubber is now playing at the Reading Gaslamp.
A Magnolia Pictures release. Director: Quentin Dupieux. Screenplay: Quentin Dupieux. Cinematography: Quentin Dupieux. Music: Gaspard Augé and Mr. Oizo. Cast: Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser, and Roxane Mesquida. Rated R.