“No reason.” That’s what a character in Rubber says directly to the audience in the film’s first scene. Why was E.T. brown? “No reason.” Then it attempts humor, rather unsuccessfully, as it asks why the president was assassinated in Oliver Stone’s JFK, and why some people like sausage and others don’t. “No reason.”
Why did Quentin Dupieux make this movie? He says it’s an ode to the “no reason” that every movie has, but Rubber, about a psychokinetic car tire that rolls around country roads and kills people and the spectators who watch it happen, has nothing to say and a terrible ratio of jokes to laughs that make it way too easy to say that it exists for “no reason.” It certainly isn’t as clever or funny as it thinks it is, and the absurd premise is executed too poorly to be entertaining.
The scenes of the spectators, who are watching Rubber, minus the parts with them in it, through binoculars, make a few attempts at social commentary related to the film-going and film-watching experience, but they mostly fall flat. A couple people are told to be quiet by another group for talking too much, and, in a maddening scene, somebody holds up a camera to try to film the tire and is told that he can’t do it because it’s piracy. While this was probably intended as an anti-piracy message, the fact that these people are not watching a movie, but they are instead looking across a desert at a tire makes the idea of piracy being illegal seem ridiculous. You can record everyday things you see to show to people, and that’s all this is; Dupieux is equating film with real-life but in doing so also mocks the idea of anti-piracy, a message that isn’t terribly kind to artistic merit and intellectual property.
On the other hand, that’s probably because Dupieux’s film has none. The score, composed partly by Dupieux himself (who makes records under the name Mr. Oizo), is well-done, but this film is the absurdist “no reason” joke told over and over again. Perhaps it’s only success as an auto-critique is in the closing moments, after the final spectator has been killed (as part of a bizarre and irritating subplot involving poisoned food and then spectator interventionism) and Rubber becomes the cinematic equivalent of the “if a tree falls in the forest” philosophy, and that only happens after a slap-in-the-face to active audiences that hits much harder than the off-screen food-poisoning suffered by the more active ones. At its best, Rubber asks a common question without trying to explore or complicate it in any meaningful way. Many call it a horror film of sorts, but certainly that involves some level of suspense, drama, or actual fright, which Rubber quickly dismantles by turning back to the spectators every time it starts trying to get there. There’s enough Samuel Beckett charm in Rubber to warrant a grotesque appeal for about 10 minutes, but that means that Rubber is almost 90% a waste of time.