Monday, February 6, 2012

Blogorium Review: Rubber

 There's no way of tiptoeing around the fact that Rubber is a weird movie. A profoundly weird, often silly, and sometimes stupid movie with one of those great "what the hell was that" premise: a tire comes to life, rolls around the desert, and causes bottles, animals, and people to explode with psycho-kinetic powers. That is, in essence, what Rubber is about. Except when it isn't at all.

 Yes, it's true that at the heart of Quentin Dupieux's Rubber, we have a tire that causes Scanners-like head exploding for people (and more generalized explosions of rabbits and crows), but the movie is mostly about the relationship between the audience (us) and the film we're watching (Rubber in this case). The film begins with a car driving down a long desert road, arbitrarily hitting chairs arbitrarily placed along the way. The car comes to a stop, and Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) climbs out of the trunk, grabs a glass of water, and addresses the audience directly. He asks us why so many movies have things that happen for "no reason," like why E.T. is brown or why Kennedy is assassinated in JFK. It's because life is filled with things that happen for "no reason." He pours the water onto the ground, gets back in the car, and drives away.

 The camera pulls back and reveals the audience. Well, not us, but our literal surrogates in the film: a pair of film geeks, some teenage girls, a father and son, a middle-aged woman, and a guy in a wheelchair. The Accountant (Jack Plotnick) provides them with binoculars so they can watch "the movie." This movie. With their binoculars, they see what we see, which is a tire that comes to life, learns to steady itself, and begins to roll around. They impatiently comment on the action, bicker amongst themselves, and one guy is recording the whole thing because his "wife couldn't make it." He stops when one of the geeks explains that's definitely piracy. Makes sense.

 Meanwhile, the tire is learning; it rolls over a plastic bottle and a scorpion and enjoys crushing them. It gets angry when it can't crush a glass bottle, so it uses its powers to make the bottle explode. The tire is happy, so when it finds a bunny, there's no reason not to test this out again. It works. When the tire goes to sleep, the boy in the audience goes to get part of the rabbit. The audience is hungry - the Accountant and Lieutenant Chad aren't feeding them and they have to sleep in the desert. The geek points out that the rabbit is fake, and nobody is happy. That makes sense too.

 I could go further, because this is prior to the actual plot, involving a French girl named Sheila (Roxane Mesquida) that the tire either falls in love with or just wants to kill. It follows her to a motel, rents a room, and kills some more people. Lieutenant Chad arrives to solve this bizarre crime spree, but gives up when the audience is poisoned and dies. Well, almost all of the audience. In fact, Lieutenant Chad's speech about how all of his other deputies and EMTs are really just characters in a movie fails when the Accountant informs him the Man in the wheelchair (Wings Hauser) didn't eat the poisoned turkey and is still watching. The film goes on as long as there's an audience...

 Rubber may be a bizarre damn film, but it does comment frequently on the relationship between audiences and movies - our expectations, the way a plot unfolds, what the audience knows that the characters don't. Dupieux blurs the line between audience and character in Rubber more than once - it isn't just that we don't know Lieutenant Chad isn't directly addressing us at the beginning (and something that happens during the credits might indicate that there is no "audience"), the surrogate audience become characters during the film. In the case of the Man in the wheelchair, it might be against his will, leading to what I took to be a jab at "trick" endings to horror films and what the viewer expects in a sequel-laden cinematic landscape. The final image, involving a gaggle of tires and a tricycle bearing down on Hollywood, seems to be a direct message: "no reason" is descending upon you.

 In fact, I could probably turn my reaction to Rubber into a treatise on the necessity of "unreason," a concept suggested by Foucault in History of Madness - the premise of Rubber, both a film and as film-within-film-but-not-exactly are rooted in "unreason." No explanation is provided for the tire, Lieutenant Chad's "experiment," or anything else that happens during Rubber. There doesn't need to be one: a little "unreason" helps balance out a world addicted to the idea that unreasonable things should be locked away. I could write about this for three more paragraphs easily, but I'm going to stop here. Why? No reason.

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