Plenty of films feature antagonists which are not human: the alien invasions of Mars Attacks! and Independence Day; the oversized monsters found in Jaws, King Kong and Jurassic Park to name a few obvious examples. Not many films, however, feature antagonists which are objects. And none present an antagonist as unlikely as in 2010’s horror/comedy, Rubber. It’s not even an object with obvious human or animalistic traits, such as the toys featured in the Toy Story and Child’s Play series. No, the source of terror that drives (no pun intended) the narrative of Rubber is… a tyre. Yes, a standard rubber tyre. A tyre that rolls about, using its supernatural powers to destroy things. One onlooker, part of a fake, fourth-wall-breaking audience that ‘view’ the events of the film at the setting itself, sums up the whole situation perfectly: “that’s odd”.
This bizarre revelation aside, Rubber is still a very strange film. Directed by French filmmaker (and electro house musician) Quentin Dupieux, there is little plot to speak of, whilst being highly self-aware and practically avant-garde in its execution. Yet it is also undeniably tongue-in-cheek: the film begins with police chief and main character, Lieutenant Chad, talking to the camera and to the two audiences (the one depicted in the film and the one externally viewing it) about the film’s philosophy of things happening for “no reason”. When he asks “in Spielberg’s E.T., why is the alien brown?”, you know that this is a film that doesn’t take itself particularly seriously. And if it did, you’d have to question the sanity of the filmmakers. However, the Lieutenant’s later statement, “all great films, without exception, contain an important element of no reason”, does have an air of smugness and self-satisfaction alongside the sheer silliness of the speech.
Later on in the film, the following conversation occurs between two police officers: “You can’t do that. Well you can, but it’s against the rules.” “Well can I or can’t I?” They’re playing chess, but more to the point, it works perfectly as the film’s main maxim and represents its abstract nature in dealing with the satire of both the horror and comedy genres.
Rubber is a relatively short film (84 minutes), but it would have worked better if it had been shorter still… a LOT shorter, closer to 20 minutes or so (à la Werner Herzog’s personifcation of a shopping bag in 2009’s Plastic Bag), because whilst the film is certainly ambitious, full of ideas and entertaining to a certain extent, you cannot help but feel that the viewer ‘gets the message’ very early on. One thing’s for sure, for all its ‘meta’ pretensions, Rubber is not quite as clever as it thinks it is.