The Square is the latest masterpiece from Ruben Östlund, director of Force Majeure (2014). Winning a Palme d’Or in Cannes in 2017 – one of the most prestigious prizes in film, grabbed the attention of international audiences and earned the film Sweden’s nomination for the Oscars. Östlund’s film is a reflection of our times through a satire of the art world, where people are too busy to pay attention to each other, even when art reflects the exact opposite.
Christian is a curator of a modern art museum in Stockholm. Trying to help a woman being chased by a man on the street, he ends up losing his wallet and phone. This incident begins an avalanche of troubles for him at work and in his personal life where he has to face up to his narrow minded actions. He finally realises that he’s not living by the important words of the artist, whose exhibition he is about to open, and literally finds himself in a big pile of trash in pouring rain, after trying to make everything he’s done right. Östlund turns modern lives into a parody that makes you laugh because of the ridiculous situations that Christian finds himself in. One hilarious moment in the film is when an art piece made up of piles of dirt is accidentally vacuumed by the cleaning personnel at the museum. To remedy this Christian decides to empty the dirt from the vacuum and reconstruct the art piece without anyone noticing. His silly and predictable ways makes you smile throughout the story and leave you wondering, what is this film really about?
The aim of the Square is to make us think of the way we judge other people. The awkward confrontations between characters and Östlund’s dry sense of humour deal with social inequality lightly but without making fun of the issue. The story has a definite feel good factor as Christian realises his mistakes and tries to make up for them. It also raises questions about narcissism and self-absorbed behaviour in a world where your phone is your basically your identity. The most convincing performance of the film is Terry Notary as a wild monkey in a live art performance at the museum’s dinner party. The absurd moment of the monkey running around the tables and harassing guests is a impeccable climax to the film, a scene that would be most unusual in real life.
The great irony about The Square is the art piece (called The Square) that nobody seems to notice or understand the meaning of. For Christian and his employees it’s all about branding and talking about the art to the press, and seem to have lost a sense of the general public. The story is intelligent, self-aware and has a self-deprecating feeling, which might come from Östlund’s Nordic upbringing and is considered very positive where he’s from. Hopefully his future films will also involve satire and a sense of humour about modern issues, as these make us feel like life is less complicated than it is and more humorous.