The dark comedy The Square delivers a message not unfamiliar considering today’s upheaval involving the brotherhood of man. In the Ruben Ostlund’s film, that takes place in Sweden, a statement is made to the meaning of “The Square” an exhibit at a museum. It states simply “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within its boundaries we all share equal rights and obligations.” So sets the tone for this bizarre look into society’s relationships with each other and the division of wealth that fuels the fire.
The chief curator of the X-Royal Museum in Stockholm, Christian (Claes Bang), has commissioned an unusual work of art called “The Square”. But, its concept has very little to promote and competing museums would truly overshadow the new addition to the exhibition hall. He calls on his promotion team to come up with a way to make the exhibit stand out. After some deliberation with the group, Christian leaves it in their hands to come up with a sterling campaign.
The day before the meeting, while walking to work through the Odenplan Plaza, Christian gets pickpocketed of his cell phone, wallet and cuff links during a staged robbery. Lost without his phone and with the opening of “The Square” exhibit needing his attention, Christian decids to track it down. Thus begins a tale that becomes an example of the art his museum displays and the realization that even the well-meaning can lose their way
Director and writer Ruben Ostlund tries too hard to get his point across loosing contact with his audience in the process. His actors are stiff and often bland as they recite their dialogue and walk through the motions. That said, his idea behind the film does show a great deal of what today’s society has to face and although it has good meaning, it doesn’t get fleshed out enough to make a difference.
I was quite surprised at the performance by Elizabeth Moss (Emmy Award winner for best lead actress for TV’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”) who adds the perspective of a journalist to the film. Her character Anne has the job of interviewing Christian about his latest addition to the museum that she records on video. She asks him a question about what makes something art. Behind her are piles of dirt that make up an “artistic” rhombus of sorts. He answers the question; “If you place an object in a museum does it make this object a piece of art? For instance if we took your handbag and placed it here (in a museum room) would that make it art?” Her character reappears at a party midway through the film with Christian not even seemingly knowing her. Yet they end up in her apartment where they have sex, argue how to dispose of the condom and Anne demanding if he knows her name. Um…so I finally realized that the filmmakers wanted her in the film as comic relief.
While Claes Bang certainly fits the mold of lead character Christian, his performance gets lost with the lack of strength by support actors. His best support characters come to the screen in the violence and chaos caused by his character’s lack of knowledge about the separation between the wealthy and the homeless. In one scene we find Oleg (Terry Notary) depicting a ferocious ape who’s charged with separating the weak from the strong at an upscale party. His actions are not only inappropriate but demeaning as well. We get the premise of his role, but it never quite speaks to the audience for favorable sympathy.
If you look deep enough into the film you’ll find an excellent performance by a young boy as a kid who wants reparations from Christian for getting him in trouble with his parents. The boy’s performance becomes hysterical when he won’t take Christian’s excuse for a mistake made while looking for his phone. My only regret is not knowing the name of the actor as he deserves accolades for his very cool characterization.
The Square has been rated R by the MPAA for language, some strong sexual content, and brief violence. You can also add some brutality that includes hair pulling of which I do not think it makes the point they are looking for except to frighten. A child is depicted being blown up. The film plays out in Swedish and English with English subtitles.
FINAL ANALYSIS: An interesting view of society.
Additional Film Information
Cast: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, Terry Notary, Christopher Laesse
Writer/Director: Ruben Ostlund
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Foreign,
MPAA Rating: R for language, some strong sexual content, and brief violence
Running Time: 2 hrs. 22 min.
Release Date: November 10, 2017
Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures
Released in: Swedish with English Subtitles