Directed by: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, Wings Hauser
Review: ‘Rubber’ isn’t so much a movie as it is an experiment. From its description it sounds like, and in practice feels like, a student film meant to challenge some of our notions about going to the movies. If that is the case then it’s the most successful student film of all time. As it’s not a student film, it was still successful in its own right.
With film and theater there is something called the “fourth wall.” This represents the imaginary boundary enclosing the events we see into a box. It keeps the audience and those either on stage or on-screen completely separate. Theater actors are trained to block out everything from the audience. Coughing, sneezing, yelling, booing, cell phone ringing, are all things that need to be tuned out so they can concentrate solely on their performance. Screen actors are trained on being able to block out the camera and everybody else on set and completely place themselves in the scene.
Rarely does a film break this “fourth wall,” and when it does happen it is usually in a comedy where it’s used to a comedic effect. Off the top of my head ‘Goodfellas’ is the only major picture I can think of to break this imaginary boundary and do it in a dramatic context with any success.
‘Rubber’ doesn’t have nearly the star power of ‘Goodfellas,’ nor the scope or widespread appeal. Nevertheless, it is equally as successful in using this tool and actually bases itself around the fact that this barrier between film and audience can be a fluid concept.
Immediately from the start we are jolted awake from our usual audience slumber by this barrier being completely torn away. The main protagonist in the film Lieutenant Chad (Spinella) pops out of the trunk of a police car and right away addresses the audience.
He challenges our notion of why films are the way they are. “Why is E.T. brown?” “Why can’t we see the air all around us?” It’s these questions that are used as a “warm-up” to get us to start challenging our preconceptions. They are also used as a means to lay a foundation of existentialism that embodies the main antagonist (the tire) in this film as well.
Now, while Lt. Chad breaks the mythical “fourth wall” in the opening scene, it is shortly revealed thereafter that he is actually talking to an audience that exists in the movie. While the audience in the movie takes on a character of its own, it’s meant to embody us as movie goers and therefore serves the same purpose for breaking the barrier between movie and movie-watcher.
All the audience members are provided with a set of binoculars and watch the unfolding events from a desert hilltop. They comment on the movie, ask for silence, and debate the merits of what’s actually happening on screen. “Would a tire float?” one asks. “No, it wouldn’t, we just saw it.” Another one replies.
It’s an interesting thought evoking our ability as viewers to take things at face value as part of a universe the movie has created, or crying for realism in all facets of the film. This is especially interesting considering the viewer asking about tires floating chooses to question that aspect when the entire film is based around a tire coming to life and murdering people, which she apparently has accepted to this point.
This whole movie the audience has been watching all the happenings from a safe distance. They have seen the tire, whose name is apparently ‘Robert,’ mysteriously come to life, learn that can destroy objects that get in his way, and then proceed to go on a murdering spree once he discovers his powers apply to humans as well.
Eventually, on his travels Robert the tire discovers a mirror. He “looks” into it (as much a sentient tire with no vital organs or eyeballs can “look” at something), and flashes back on his short life. This is where the existential bit I talked about earlier is hammered home. Robert has not gone through his existence owing anything to anybody, or any type of philosophical attitude or ideology.
Robert determines his own existence. The idea comes up that Robert lives as a manifestation of evil that the audience has projected into this formerly inanimate object. This acts as the desire of the audience to have an antagonist in every film. With this thought, logic would have it that once the audience is gone, Robert will go with it, and everyone can go home.
An audience member even goes so far as to leave his safety perch and approach the “actors” asking about the validity and purpose behind a scene. “This doesn’t make sense,” he says. He is not portrayed as a person of little intelligence, just someone who has a certain expectation for the events of this spectacle that have not been met.
This audience member meets an unfortunate demise which serves as a warning. The warning is that expectations can lead to a completely different experience for a movie. The member in question is no longer a viewer, but is now a part of the movie and that is why he comes to his precarious end.
As this will show, ‘Rubber’ doesn’t cross over into the abstract, but rather dives deep into and revels in it. As it was pointed out to us in the beginning, some things don’t have a reason they just are how they are. That is the very reason why some events in movie occur as they do. Other events are meant to play with our conceived notion of how movies are perceived and the level of participation the audience plays in making a film truly come to life or not.
There is nothing that is incredibly deep here, but enough to satisfy those looking for more than the surface level of their films. ‘Rubber’ is mostly fun and interesting play on what we expect, not just when watching this movie, but all films in general. If you don’t particularly like dealing with abstract thoughts and ideas in films (which not all do), then you might want to pass on this one. However, if you enjoy some of your preconceived notions being challenged and thrown right in your face then this is definitely worth your time.
‘Rubber’ is not for everyone but I don’t believe it was meant to be. This was not created to be a crowd pleaser or blockbuster and would be unfair to compare it on that level. For what it is I thought it was a fun and interesting movie that had a good bit of dark humor and was able to effectively present some unique questions.