Rubber (2010)

There's a line in an old Jean-Luc Godard movie that I love, a line that is usually in the front of my mind when I review a movie - "Photography is truth; cinema is truth 24 times per second." There are a few interpretations of it, and some criticisms as well. The way I look at it, it basically says "whatever is happening in a movie is the truth in that universe", so if there are giant robots from outer space that turn into cars, you have to accept that as the truth in that universe. With "Rubber", I found myself totally clueless as to what "the truth" really was, and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Somewhere in the American southwest, a rubber tire comes to life. Possessed by a demon? Spellbound by a wizard? Influenced by Earth passing through the tail of a comet? All of the above, none of the above? Really, there's no reason. The tire just rises up from the ground, learns to roll, and sets off to explore. Along the way, it discovers two things: violence is fun, and it can blow things up with its mind.

The idea of a murderous tire is surreal enough, but to add to the pure weirdness of this universe is the fact that there is a group of spectators watching the "film" as it plays out in front of them, in "real life". The group is standing in the desert, armed with binoculars, watching the tire roll around. It's a meta reference that provides some comedy, but in the end never really worked for me. We've all seen movies that break the fourth wall (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Annie Hall, etc) but somehow this movie manages to break the fourth wall, while building its own fifth wall. It puts the audience in a weird spot of watching another audience experience the film while it experiences its own "reality", without really breaking into our reality. Some of the cast of the movie-within-a-movie is aware that they're acting, but not all of them are, leading to multiple layers of confusion.

Without all the excess, "Rubber" makes for a bizarre, memorable black-comedy-horror. Adding in all the existential references turns it into an even more unique experience, but doesn't necessarily add to the overall quality. The last act really dragged, and left the feeling that this would have been better served as a short-film rather than a feature-length. On the plus side, the camera work is fantastic and the sound editing is great. The landscape shots of the desert, the shots from the tire's POV, they're all beautiful. The sound is also notable, full of natural desert sounds and perfect squeaks of rubber against various objects, along with a signature death rattle just before the tire claims another victim.

Somehow in the end, "Rubber" manages to walk the line between serious and too serious, but never plants itself on one side, which ends up detracting from both sides. If it was just a goofy spoof of horror movies, it could have worked. If it was a comedy done with a straight face, it could have worked. By trying to make it a serious musing on the nature of movies themselves, it just ended up falling short. Still memorable, still mostly fun, but a victim of trying too hard.



On the [Celluloid Hero] scale, "Rubber" gets a 6 out of 10.




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