Imagine if David Lynch had directed Jaws with a tire instead of a shark as his villain, and you’d have a pretty good idea of what Rubber (review) is like. But that’s just half of what Quentin Dupieux’s post-modern smorgasbord of Rod Serling inspired bizarreness has to offer. Instead of just stopping at the absurd notion of having a tire blowing people’s heads up, the film throws its audience for a loop, introducing it as a film with a film that ends up crossing over and disrupting reality, resulting in one of the most unique cinematic experiences in quite some time.
Quentin Dupieux: (laughs) Honestly, the hard bit was to create a remote controlled tire. It’s really complicated because a tire is full of emptiness and you can’t really hide the mechanisms well. So, casting the tire was easy, but creating the whole thing and making it remote controlled was really complicated. In the end, we had like three prototypes, and only one was working really. It was incredibly hard just to make the tire roll, which is not normally something you’d call a special effect.
B-D: The tire moves around so organically, and while I was watching it, I was trying to spot wires or a motor or anything really, especially in that scene where it sits up. It looks like it was just doing it on its own; very natural.
Dupieux: It’s very simple, it’s the very first steps of movie making. We just used the proper frame, and the wire is just a guy holding the tire. It’s really easy. For a few shots, like maybe 20, we used the remote controlled tire for rolling scenes. Everything else was hand-operated. It was like being in the 30s, the early days of movie making. No CGI or equipment. For these scenes, it was just me, a small camera, and finding the right angle for the shot.
B-D: Is there any CGI in the film?
Dupieux: For the tire, no. I only had to use it, a little bit, for the exploding heads. I shot mechanical effects… I made some fake heads explode. But it didn’t really look good. It was pretty shitty, to be honest. So for the three exploding heads, we had to rework it a little bit. We kept the mechanical effects, but we added some blood and things with CGI to make it look more convincing. But for the tire, it’s all real.
B-D: The “no reason” speech in the beginning is this brilliant setup and provides the main ideas and themes that run through the movie. Did the films you name in the speech give you the basis for the film, or did you just later think of them while writing the script?
Dupieux: No, the movies I mentioned are just mainstream movies that people know. To explain the concept of no reason with movies that nobody knows, it’s just not the same. I had this idea about a living tire, and usually, in those types of movies where an object comes to life, sometimes there’s a reason and sometimes it’s a storm or event that creates life. I thought, `Ok, I just want to shoot a movie about a living tire and I don’t want to explain why it came to life.’ So, that’s how I came up with this stupid idea for the monologue. I told myself, `It’s movie-making, it’s not real life and I can do whatever I want.’ If it’s well done, you will believe. I needed a good introduction to the plot, because otherwise people would have been confused, I think… I don’t know. To be honest, I wrote the movie in three weeks without thinking too much. I’m analyzing it now, but wrote it very quickly without thinking.
B-D: There’s a lot of influence that can be seen in the film, ranging from David Lynch to The Twilight Zone, both of which are fitting. A lot of moments in the film, like the opening speech, having a movie within a movie, which is very post-modern, and the fact that some of these characters can’t discern between reality and being in this strange film – an experiment, even – are very Rod Serling. Do you consider the show to be a huge influence?
Dupieux: Probably, without knowing it, because I’ve been watching the show since I was young. I’m intrigued by fantastic worlds, and telling a story that’s creepy. Things like that and Creepshow… yeah, probably. It’s part of me, it’s in my brain. The thing is you can’t really decide your influences; you can’t choose. You don’t know why you’re excited by something or not, it’s in your subconscious. On the third day of shooting, I realized that I was thinking a lot about Duel. You just can’t control what runs through your mind.
B-D: It’s funny that you should mention a Spielberg movie, because when a friend asked me to describe the movie, I told her that it was like David Lynch directed Jaws with a tire instead of a shark.
Dupieux: (laughs) I like it! That’s a good way to describe it.
B-D: One of the big things that sets Rubber apart is the film with a film premise, which is a tactic that has hasn’t been used too much. Most of the time, it isn’t handled too well, but I felt like you really understood that it shouldn’t be used like a crutch or as a big twist, and it flows through the whole film and adds this extra element of weird awkwardness between the characters. What made you decide to use it? Because, to be perfectly honest, the idea of a killer tire is strange enough on its own.
Dupieux: (laughs) Very naturally. I wrote like 20 pages of the tire story, and I got bored. I thought that it really wasn’t enough. It was like shooting a basic slasher, and I wanted it to be more than that. I got bored, and decided to add a new layer. I wrote that because my first film, Steak, was released in France and had these two big name comedic actors, and it got shown in a lot of theatres but they were empty. I snuck into a theatre one day, and the movie was running with nobody in the room. The idea of the film was running in an empty theatre with no audience was kind of scary. What if someone up in the projection room was the spectator, watching me slip into an empty theatre showing the film? It was something that frightened me. I thought of that when I got bored with the idea of doing a single-layered film.
B-D: There’s a lot of attention to detail in the film, things that would normally be glossed over, such as those during the birth of the tire. It had some nice touches, like how it struggles to get on its tread for the first time. It was actually sentimental, in a way; you can almost sense the emotion of the tire.
Dupieux: To me, I was only following my instincts. My concern was to make something stupid, funny, and absurd, but the most important thing was to give emotion to the tire. If had just been stupid and absurd, the whole film would’ve been one big joke. Giving emotion to the tire, like when he looks in the mirror and sees his shape and remembers his short life, was like giving him a mind. It was a way to make it more complex; it’s not just a stupid tire, it carries human traits. It gave the scene where Robert sees other tires a whole new meaning.
B-D: And that’s what really sells the movie. It’s true, it is just a tire, but through cinematography, music, and a few clever in-camera tricks, you can make out the tire’s thought process.
Dupieux: That was honestly inspired by Wall-E.
B-D: I LOVE that movie.
Dupieux: Me too! I love the beginning of it; like, the first thirty minutes of it. There’s no dialogue, but you observe the robot and you see what he’s thinking. That was the same approach I used. There’s no dialogue, but you can tell what he’s thinking by observing. I think that’s really cool.
B-D: Your films have a comedic twist that focus on unordinary lives. Rubber is a strange concept, and it’s not that the film is a comedy, but it has dark comedic elements, and so does Steak. Is that something you’d consider as your signature storytelling style?
Dupieux: Oh yes. I’m attracted by that, and I’ve basically been trying to do the same movie since I was 12. It’s not like I’m going to do a comedy, and then the next day run off and do something completely different. You’re always trying to do the same thing, so yes, I’m going to keep on doing the same thing. Obviously, I’m not going to use the tire again – it was funny, but it’s been done. I’m going to do different stuff, but in the same vein. It’s the way I write. I don’t like when a movie is only meant to be funny, and I don’t like when a movie is only meant to be tragic. I hate one-directional movies.
B-D: The end of the film presents a cliffhanger of sorts. As the tricycle approaches the Hollywood sign, it leaves the possibility for a sequel open, although I’m sure you were just poking fun at a typical horror ending. Regardless, you could technically make one, but judging from what you previously said, it doesn’t sound like you want to necessarily make a sequel, but would you consider working in the horror genre again?
Dupieux: Yeah, probably. The ending was just a joke, poking fun at the cliché Hollywood ending. But I might do a horror movie again.
B-D: What’s next on the agenda for you? Were you planning on making another film or writing some new music? (NOTE: Quentin is also a successful French electro-house musician that goes by the pseudonym Mr. Oizo)
Dupieux: I just moved to LA for like a year, and I’m supposed to make another film. I have two scripts ready, and I just have to decide which one to shoot. I love shooting movies and making music, and I’m enjoying handling both at the same time.
B-D: Any clues as to what you’re working on?
Dupieux: The next one has no special effects. It’s a weird, intellectual – but stupid – comedy. But, that’s all I want to say right now. (laughs)