The Square, written and directed by Ruben Östlund, was a film that continually surprised me. Scenes almost never played out how I expected them to and were continually filled with opposing elements that would only strengthen the outcome of what was trying to be achieved. A central message that, while being pushed a little too hard sometimes, is still successfully touched upon because of a main character whose journey that both compliments what the film is trying to say, while also being a meaningful journey that you want to be a part of. All this and more means there’s a lot that The Square tackles and I don’t know if I’ll get to talk about all of it, but to have the chance to talk about this film at all is something I’m eager (a little nervous) to do. So, let’s get to it.
Christian – played by Claes Bang – is the curator of prestigious Stockholm museum and is currently trying to create buzz for a new exhibit titled ‘The Square’. However, issues in his personal life that are beginning to spiral out of control, begin to interfere with his work within the museum and soon the issues will collide in a way that could have massive consequences for Christian personally and for the museum professionally.
Almost from the beginning and throughout, The Square was a film that kept out-manoeuvring my expectations. Often going into scenes, I would expect things to play out in a certain way. But this was a film where I would expect one thing, only for an unforeseen element to be hurled into the mix; completely shifting the tone and the expected outcome. Whether it was a crying baby in a boardroom meeting or a man with Tourette’s during a discussion with a prolific artist – The Square never played things by the book.
As you can imagine, this initially kept me on my toes, as I never knew what direction the film might take; what off-kilter element might barge into a scene and create a whole new balance for both the scene and myself to adapt to. Now, it wasn’t something the film did all the time – there wasn’t any clear pattern to what was happening. What it resulted in was a film that continually had my full, uninterrupted attention. These elements never felt forced; I didn’t feel like the director was doing it for the sake of doing it. Strangely, despite the oddness of some of the situations, it felt right within the context of the story and of the character’s lives.
One scene in particular stands out, where in which a live performance during a fund-raising event sees Oleg – played by Terry Notary – imitate a chimpanzee to an incredibly accurate degree. Not only is the performance astounding to watch, but the direction that it inevitably goes is quite shocking to witness. It was a scene that travelled a gamut of emotions. I went from being amused like everyone else; admiring the authenticity of the performance but also the fun of it, to being horrified at what the performer was allowed to do in the name of art. It was a scene that continually transformed itself and had me eating out of the film’s palm. I feel it to be a perfect example of the type of experiences the film took me on.
The Square was a film where during any-given scene I could be sitting there both bewildered and amazed at how a scene was set-up and subsequently handled throughout. With it being so attention grabbing, it then also went onto aid the film in presenting and exploring its themes and its message. You see, the film had no qualms about beginning a scene and then just luxuriating in it. Moments could go on for quite some time, with large amounts of dialogue – and it wasn’t always necessarily the most stimulating conversations to listen to – but with the added elements that would cause a scene to drift off its stable axis and become unconventional, I naturally found myself engaging with the scene; listening intently to what was being said, and inevitably becoming fully immersed in the world and the people I was watching.
And the person I was watching the most was the film’s primary character, Christian. I was fascinated by Christian. When we initially meet him, he presents himself as a charming, intelligent, well put together man – someone who you would find it very easy to interact with and feel comfortable around. But as the film progresses and we get a deeper look into Christian and his world around him, we see a very flawed individual. Those flaws show a vain man who is removed from reality. However, those flaws don’t inherently make him a bad person; rather a product of his environment. So, when reality does come crashing into his life, it was then getting to be a part of his journey of self-discovery that I was then really pulled in. Christian ends up being both our window into the art world and the primary communicator of the films larger message.
When it comes to the film’s message and the themes that it explores, I will admit that I thought it was a little heavy-handed at times. As the film went on and it continued to hammer home its point, I felt it was beginning to stray into a territory that would result in people feeling bombarded by the film’s attempts to show the disparity between rich and poor – not only in Stockholm but the larger world.
I will say though, writer director, Ruben Östlund’s smart decision to juxtapose the images of homeless people or people with less, next to those in the world of modern art, to be quite brilliant on his part. You really get a sense for just how removed from one another, both sides of society and culture are. To watch as people sit around a board room trying to find a way to get their new art installation to go viral, meanwhile you have people right outside their doors who struggle to simply feed themselves. It was very effective in my opinion. Unlike the heavy-handed nature in which the film pushes its message, it thankfully never went to a place with its imagery that was ever uncomplimentary to the rest of the film and its visual aesthetic.
I also appreciated the fact that Ruben Östlund never overtly pushed an opinion of modern art upon me. I’m someone who’s largely indifferent to modern art. I don’t hate it and try to belittle it like so many others seem desperate to do, but I also don’t seek it out and make the effort to admire it or insist that others appreciate it. Much like the way in which the film approaches modern art, I’m fine with it being a form of art that people can enjoy if they want to
Like I mentioned in the beginning, The Square is a film that feels like it tackles a lot, but it was never a film that felt encumbered by what it wanted to explore. I think that’s in large part because of its central character, Christian. Through him we get a meaningful story and a transitional experience for the character. It’s also through him that we get such an honest feeling glimpse into the world of modern art and its status within society. It all resulted in a film that both entertained me and got me to think about areas of culture and society I often overlook. I’m always of the opinion that if a film can achieve something beyond simply being an enjoyable experience (and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with a film being purely that) but to transcend the medium and cause you to think not only about the film but also an aspect of our own world; then in my opinion it has done something truly worthwhile.
And so, for that reason – and many more – I fully recommend, The Square. I will stress this point though: The Square certainly won’t be for everyone. Its slow pace and what it touches upon will be things that won’t grab everyone’s attention. But I do hope that if you see the film, you find it as fulfilling and enjoyable as I did. The Square is in my opinion an excellent film that deserves to be seen.
I’d love to know what your thoughts on The Square and my review of it are, so please leave any opinions or feedback you may have, in the comments section down below. May I ask that you consider following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as it well help to grow what I’m doing here. I’ll leave you now by saying a heartfelt thanks to you for taking the time to read my review; I hope you liked it enough to return!