Right away I realized things weren't quite going to be what I expected. Rubber had been marketed as something of an off-the-wall horror/comedy about a sentient car tire that can blow up people's heads with its thoughts. And though it does feature said tire, the tire is only one part of a much more bizarre whole, and horror never really enters the equation. This becomes clear during the opening scene, where a cop climbs out of the trunk of a patrol car and proceeds to explain directly to the audience that every great movie has an element of "no reason." This is something of a mission statement for Rubber. Of course, the cop's examples don't really make a lot of sense (for instance, he explains that Adrian Brody's character in The Pianist has to go into hiding for "no reason"), but maybe that just proves Rubber's point.
Then it turns out that the cop is not just telling this information to you and I, but that the audience of the film are actually, uh, characters in the film. They are a group of people, gathered in the desert for reasons never explained, who peer across the land with their binoculars and watch (and I guess somehow hear) the story of the sentient car tire.
This introduction is followed by a strange, delightful sequence of pure visual storytelling, as the tire comes to life and enters the world. We see it learn to roll (it stumbles and falls a few times before getting the hang of it). We see it discover and learn about other objects, other living things. And discover that it likes to break them. And when it learns it can't break a bottle, we learn that it has the ability to make things explode with its telekinetic powers. The sequence is very sensuous and immediate, almost has the feeling of a nature documentary, except of course for how absurd it is. Because of the film making, but also because of our need to anthropomorphize, you actually begin to empathize with the tire. So, naturally, at that very moment, the film cuts back to one of the audience members saying "This is the first time I've ever empathized with a tire!"
It's about here that I should stop describing the "plot" of Rubber, since most of the fun is that you have no idea where it is heading from minute to minute, and any story it does is establish is continually, gleefully, ruthlessly deconstructed and devoured. The story of the tire, which seems like it broadly fits the outline of a bad horror movie, is cut off at the knees as the film takes bizarre tangent after bizarre tangent. The "audience" and film interact in ways that seem to have a subterranean logic, only we're never let in on what exactly that logic might be. Layers of reality are stripped away, only to be reapplied. In between all of that is a lot of absurdity, and a good number of laughs.
This is not a film for all (or most) filmgoers, but I kinda loved it. It seems to me that, philosophically, it shares some of my ideas about the possibilities of cinema. It all boils down to the "no reason." While I'm sure I could do intellectual backflips trying to justify Rubber as a comment on filmgoing, on narrative, a seminal work in the theater of the absurd, etc., a lot of its appeal comes from just luxuriating in its profound oddness. I'm all for over-analyzing movies, but sometimes as filmgoers I think we have a problem with over-intellectualizing them. We're always looking for subtext (political, social, emotional, whatever), or a literal explanation, or a grand thesis that explains a film, or a scene, or a shot, or even just a small detail. That's all well and good, but sometimes a film's power or worth is more aesthetic, or abstract, or at the very least comes from something less logical, less easy to put in words. Sometimes a film exists for "no reason" other than to be itself.
Which is to say, Rubber is kind of a celebration of itself, of the way it is shot, of the cleverness and subversiveness of its (lack of) story. I wouldn't want most films to be like this, but I'm glad director Quentin Dupieaux made this one. He supposedly has another film in the works, which I'm officially excited for, although in some ways Rubber feels like a great magic trick that can only be pulled off once.