For a long time, I only knew this movie as “that one on Netflix about the tire,” so I started it expecting something kind of…whimsical? Of course, sometimes when you watch a film knowing literally nothing about it, you don’t get exactly what you expect.
Had I read the description, (or watched the trailer) I would have known that Rubber is actually fairly dark. It is not, as I anticipated, the whimsical tale of a tire rolling around the US in a stunning display of Americana. It’s actually a kinda twisted experiment in the overlap between art and real life, in which a tire (apparently named Robert) rolls around fucking murdering people with its psychokinetic powers.
I actually can’t really figure out if the film is a work of stunning genius or incredibly heavyhanded, since it starts out with a monologue on art, stating that “all great films, without exception, contain an important element of no reason.” There’s no reason why characters in a love film fall in love, there’s no reason why you don’t ever really see characters in a film leave to go use the restroom***, and all of this is essentially due to the fact that things happen in real life for no reason. This lil monologue sets up the relationship between life and art in a way that’s usually ignored — it doesn’t just break the fourth wall, it comes in and shatters it on a wrecking ball. Then the speaker dumps a glass of water out and leaves the audience (who apparently have been there the whole time) with binoculars in order to watch the “show.”
But here’s the thing– the whole time we are watching the speech, thinking it is directed at us, but it’s actually directed at the audience in the movie, and the camera angle when the audience is revealed shows the back of their heads, placing us as in we’re in the audience. Are we meant to accept ourselves as part of the movie audience, or as a separate audience?
The members of the movie audience exist within the tire’s universe. The audience and characters outside of the audience interact, and the “show” actually leads to the audience’s death. If we are members of the movie audience, this interaction seems to say something about our collective relationship with art — that we are affected by art, as well as that we create it. Going back to the monologue, if great art has that element of no reason that life does, are we supposed to take away that the filmmaker wants us to believe that art is life, rather than just mirroring life? Does art take on a life of its own? In the film, the “show” is supposed to end when the audience dies, but one member survives and the “show” is forced to go on. At this point, it is out of the control of the people who set it in motion, much like popular books that inspire fanfiction beyond canon. In fanfiction, the story is removed from the control of the original creator and continues as long as at least one person — the writer — exists in the audience.
I suppose also, that there’s something to be said about the tire’s violence. Although the audience personifies the tire, calling it “he” and trying to address its motives, we really cannot know if it is sentient in the way we (ie humans) are or not. Initially, the tire kills things that are in its way — it crushes trash by rolling over it first, then bugs, then starts to blow up the heads of small animals before finally moving onto people. By the time it kills animals, the violence seems to be pointless, since a rabbit poses no threat to the tire. However, when it kills humans it seems to be more vengeful — it kills people who dismiss it and goes on a killing spree after people burn a pile of tires.
Continuing with the idea that Rubber is commenting on the relationship between art and life, and acknowledging that the audience is subjected to violence (as well as hostility within the group) the film seems to bring up the (overplayed question) of whether violence in art causes violence in life, or if violence is present in art because it is present in life.
Anyway, that’s as far as I’m going to go with this, I just think it’s an interesting jumping off point if you’ve seen/are interested in the movie. If nothing else, the absurdity is pretty funny.
thanks for watching,
***one of my favorite tidbits from Pulp Fiction is the fact that Tarantino uses the times that characters (especially Vince Vega) are in the restroom as an opportunity to develop the action outside of it — Mia Wallace overdoses, Bunny/Yolanda and Pumpkin/Ringo hold up the cafe, and Bruce Willis comes into his apartment and finds Vince’s gun — which seems to say that stopping for the restroom is a time where things pause for you, but not for the rest of the world