Rubber

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A

Is it possible to set out to make a smash cult hit and actually succeed? Your first instinct might be yes, as many of the biggest cult films today have similar aesthetics and sensibilities. But thinking through the films that have the smash cult followings (The Room, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, even Plan 9 from Outer Space), I find they are linked by the filmmakers’ desire (and often assurances) to make a “good” film. And while films which are obviously trying to piggy-back on these “successes” and try to create a cult phenomenon (Repo!, The Genetic Opera, etc) may achieve a small cult following, they often pale in comparison to the films that sell out midnight shows all across the country on a consistent basis.

Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber is a film destined for cult followings for years to come. I’m not saying that I think the filmmakers set out to make a film for these specific purposes, but it has all the ingredients. First, it uses its high concept beautifully — you’ve probably heard of Rubber as “the killer tire movie”. It’s true that the film focuses on a used and thrown away tire who has some sort of psycho-kinetic power that allows it to take revenge on animals and humans by blowing them up. As strange as that sounds, it is even stranger on film.

What separates Rubber from the other films I mentioned is that it’s a well-made and (sometimes) thought-provoking movie — which usually flies in the face of standard cult fare. The tire effects are really quite stunning and I could never work out exactly how they were done, giving an allure of reality to the film. Using a mix of practical effects, animation and computer graphics, the tire rolls around and pulsates magically. The desert landscape is also beautifully photographed and the cinematographer (Dupieux, who also edited the film and co-wrote the original music) shoots the tire and its surroundings in a way that completely emphasizes both the strange humor and tension.

As a film where the protagonist is a non-living, non-talking object, the film fills out the story by presenting it in a meta context. We open up the film in the middle of a desert. We are then treated to a wonderful speech contextualizing reason within the film (our speaker posits that there is no reason for E.T. being gray and other choices that have been made in classic films) and we find out that he is addressing a second audience in the film who watch Rubber play out in real-time and in their own lives.

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This meta device doesn’t always work, but it is truly fascinating and gleefully irreverent. It also, of course, explains the reason why this movie is made — there is simply no reason. There is a movie made about a tire who blows things up because we can make a movie about a tire that blows things up. This may not be satisfying enough for many, and I had problems wondering if this was sort of a cop-out argument. The themes around spectatorship and the nature of reason in film are enough to stimulate the brain in lieu of the mindless plot and the film is better for it.

In full disclosure, I saw this movie in the ideal environment — surrounded by hundreds of genre fans during a science fiction marathon festival. I don’t know if this movie would have the same effect for someone seeing it alone or at home, but I do believe it will deliver upon secondary viewings. It’s also a movie that defies rankings, so take my actual grade with a grain of salt — as it was influenced by my entire experience while watching the film.

While Rubber certainly isn’t for every audience, its off-the-wall sensibility and solid film-making help carve its place in cinema’s landscape. It may not be the next huge cult film, but it may do something more difficult: span the gap between a cult audience and critical acclaim.

tags: Quentin Dupieux, rubber

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  • Grisly Gunnar

    This is a really interesting film and I’m interested to see what others thought when they get the chance to see it.

  • http://www.awayman.com Alex

    Aaron, great review. I think you’re right that this movie has a lot of midnight showings waiting for it in the future.

    To reply to your feelings about the cop-out of it being a movie “for no reason whatsoever”, I’ll point out something Sarah and I both loved, which is that so many of the things listed as having “no reason whatsoever” actually have many, legitimate reasons. JFK being the best example of this.

    So I think it’s safe to say that this movie is hiding behind a safety blanket of “no reason whatsoever” when there are some real, wonderful, meaningful things happening on the screen. Whether they be awesome and beautiful, or satirical, or inane.

    And I can’t wait to watch this again on my own, because I have a feeling there will be a lot more silent, gaping in awe, and less random laughing at everything. This movie has so many just jaw dropping, amazing moments. Not to say that it isn’t ridiculously funny as well.

  • Grisly Gunnar

    Thanks for the comment, Alex. I agree with you on that opening speech, but I take the message in that (especially the films that were based on true events: JFK, Pianist, etc.) that there are reasons in the real life stories, but a movie is a movie. Even a fictionalized film is ultimately fiction.

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