THE STORY – Disaster strikes when a curator hires a public relations team to build some buzz for his renowned Swedish museum.
THE CAST – Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West & Terry Notary
THE TEAM – Ruben Östlund (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 142 Minutes
By Matt N.
“The Square,” Ruben Östlund’s new, Palme d’Or winning film is a work of art. And like all great works of art, it invites its own fair share of scrutiny and interpretation. It’s a film with great individual scenes scattered throughout its nearly two and a half hour running time. There is a through line which weaves its way through these scenes, that help to give the film its message. However, director Ruben Östlund allows his imagination and self-indulgence to run away with him, creating a film that is maddeningly bizarre, always interesting but never quite as absorbing as it thinks it is.
In the aftermath of the abolition of the Monarchy of Sweden, the Stockholm Palace has been converted into an art museum called “The Square.” Christian (Claes Bang) is a curator at the museum, whose life is shaken when his mobile phone, wallet and grandfather’s cufflinks are stolen. Under pressure to drive the museum’s funding up, Christian elicits the help of a PR firm to create an ad which will drive public interest in the museum. The results of which, bring about great chaos for all involved but mostly Christian.
“The Square” is a social commentary on class, power and what it means to truly be decent. When you are a public figure, or you have wealth or power, how does that shape your worldview? Östlund consistently returns to the beggars in the streets who are homeless, desperate and unheard. They plead for “help” or for “money” on a daily basis while people brush right by them. One would think that if you had fame, wealth, and power, you would want to use that to assist those less fortunate within your community. It is that decision-making process and how it is perceived, that “The Square” is interested in.
It further expands on this theme through the museum, of where the film gets its name from. The museum is a place for people to come together, to be considered as one, as their interests meet to observe and discuss art. Much like the beggars on the streets, the museum is also interested in money to survive. Donations are the lifeblood which helps the museum to flourish to new and unexpected heights. Why are we so willing to donate to a museum but not to save a human life? What really is art, if the driving force is money? These questions and much more are what Ruben Östlund is trying to communicate in “The Square.” With so many questions and thus, so much to explore, it is no surprise that Östlund does not wrap up his main narrative satisfyingly enough.
Östlund filters all of these themes through the museum’s curator Christian. A semi-public figure (As he calls himself), he is constantly tested every day on his own humanity, as his lifestyle progressively becomes more selfish. Have a fool’s errand to run? Make one of your assistants do it. Want to have sex with anyone you want? Don’t expect to take any responsibility for it after the fact. Want to run a museum that celebrates high art for the supper class? Be prepared to have to ask for money to fund it. Christian is constantly asked to identify with those he is trying to deem as “below him.” His actions have consequences, as illustrated by a nagging young boy who will not give up on making Christian’s life a living hell until he owns up to an act he committed earlier in the film and apologize. We also see how this level of thinking and behavior has an impact on his two daughters, who are presented as innocent but well on their way to becoming a continuation within a system that is broken.
There’s a moment in “The Square” where Christian verbally sums up the film’s message and themes in a confessional video as he tries to atone for his sins. At first, he thinks it’s pointless and beneath him. However, after many bizarre scenes, situations and human experiences, Christian finally attempts to do the right thing and set a good example for his daughters in the process. Ruben Östlund comment on the film’s ending is one that will surely frustrate some while inspiring others to look inwards at what kind of a person they want to be and if they were to achieve power, fame, and wealth, would they still want to be that person? I haven’t even given away the film’s many comical and brilliant (The guerrilla dinner scene is fantastic) moments, talked about some of the brilliant camerawork on display or the performances by Bang, Elisabeth Moss (Who plays a journalist that develops a sexual relationship with Christian), and Dominic West (An artist at the museum). “The Square” should be seen with as little knowledge heading into it and be seen with the largest crowd possible. It’s often very funny and will have you debating for days afterward.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Artful in its cinematography and themes, this social commentary is bold and often outrageously funny
THE BAD – With so many questions and themes presented, Östlund struggles to tie them all together succinctly