Comedy? Drama? Horror? Documentary?, 82 Minutes, 2010
Well… there’s this old tire (“Robert”, we’re told in the credits – but it’s not clear if that’s the tire’s actual name or the name of the character the tire is playing) that’s been discarded in the desert. It (he?) decides to get up one day and wander off. It watches a lot of TV and uses its telekinetic powers to blow-up whatever (or whomever) irks it. There’s also this thing about being in a movie inside another movie and some indications that the tire might have a love interest.
For the most part the movie works by tossing about absurdities and then honoring them completely. The rules may make little sense and may be introduced at any time but they are never broken. This provides the movie with firmer base than many experimental films and while it may do little to make it more accessible it definitely makes it more watchable.
The movie has a rocky start. We’re forced to watch a pretentious monologue about “No reason” as the “most powerful element of style”. This means that the movie begins with essentially an apology (or, if you’re more forgiving, an explanation) to the audience that would have been significantly more meaningful after experiencing the film. We then move into an introduction of the in-film audience and finally begin the “real” movie (actually the movie within the movie).
The introduction of the tire is masterful. It sets a tone of perfect seriousness within an absurd conceptual bubble. Determinedly the tire rises, then falls. It moves a yard then falls again. Stumbling, it struggles to master itself. As it explores the surroundings it begins to learn of its power. The quality of this sequence is amazing. It creates a surprising emotional depth and is technically stunning. Not since I first read “Skinny Legs and All” by Tom Robbins and met Can o’ Beans, Spoon, and Dirty Sock have I been so invested in a (formerly) inanimate object.
Unfortunately things get a less impressive from there. The tire remains a great, if completely enigmatic, character. The script intimates (and later all but tells us) that it is obsessed with a girl it sees on the road but this is never really explored or adequately demonstrated. We continually leave the tire to explore what amount to less interesting cul de sacs in the nested film plot and the movie runs out of steam long before its unsatisfying ending.
“Rubber” isn’t a bad film by any means but it is a fuck-nut, bat-shit-crazy film and not everybody can warm up to that. At times it layers on the weird a bit too thickly making it difficult for the audience to connect. It also suffers from hubris: a lot of the ideas just aren’t as god-damn clever as they think they are. The movie would have been much better served as a short focusing completely on the tire as this is where it truly shines.