After only a single viewing, I suspect that someday, Rubber may be lumped in with such genre-bending classics as Eraserhead, Gummo, and Lost Highway, three movies people still discuss and debate the meanings of many years after their release. Rubber is not a typical “film” in which a simple narrative is presented to viewers. After thinking about it for the past couple of days, I can see at least three levels on which the film can be interpreted, and there may be more.
If you want to be surprised by this film, stop reading now. I will not give away every detail of the film, but I’ll be giving some major plot points away. If this bothers you, stop reading now.
The film Rubber begins with a monologue presented directly to the audience in which a police officer who, after questioning why characters do or don’t do certain things in movies, presents the audience with the movie’s overall theme: “no reason.” To drive home the fact, the officer then pours his glass of water out on to the desert sand below, and climbs back into the trunk of his squad car. It is within this “no reason” framework that we, the audience, are then presented the story of Robert, a homicidal tire.
And by that I don’t mean someone gets accidentally killed by a tire, or that a killer uses a tire to kill people. I mean, an old used tire literally rises up out of the desert sand and, after dusting itself off, begins rolling around the desert and killing small animals before it graduates to human beings.
Why? No reason.
If it weren’t for Lieutenant Chad and the moments in which he breaks the fourth wall, we might never question the absurdity of the film’s contents — but he does, and we do. At one point during the police investigation, Chad urges his fellow investigating officers to realize they are not actually members of law enforcement, but rather actors in a movie. He goes so far as to ask one of them to shoot him. When one of them does, he has to explain that the blood spurting from his chest is merely a special effect. The fact that any of them are in a movie is beyond the characters’ comprehension, and the investigation into the tire’s killing spree continues.
On the most basic level, you can take Rubber at face value and call it a film about a murderous tire. On a second level, you have an alternate reality unfolding, the one in which (at least one) character in the film realizes that he is, in fact, a character within a film who begins to question the absurdity of everything happening within the film including his own actions. And, moving completely outside the film’s narrative, there is a third layer in which we can view the film, that bigger “no reason” framework that questions not only why do people act the way they do in films, but why we are willing to watch those films and accept those actions as some form of reality?
I wanted to like Rubber and, as with many rule-challenging films, I walked away from it a little confused and a little frustrated. But the more I think about it, the more I like it and the more I appreciate what they were trying to do. Approaching an hour-and-a-half in length the film feels longer than it is, partially because of long segments with no dialog, and I wondered multiple times about what (if anything) could have been cut, edited, or replaced. Rubber isn’t perfect, but it’s an interesting film that takes a unique look at movies in general and asks its audience to challenge why characters act the way they do, not just in this film but in all films.
And if all that sounds too deep, you get to see a tire kill people. Why?
No reason. No reason at all.