Directed by Ruben Östlund, The Square chronicles the personal and public crises faced by Christian (Claes Bang), the well-respected curator of an art museum in Stockholm. His family and love life become intertwined with his attempts to set up a new, controversial installation titled ‘The Square’.
‘The Square’ is described in the artist’s statement as ‘a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.’ Despite its sentiment, such rubric is hardly headline-grabbing – until two PR agents upload a shocking promo video that instantly goes viral. However, Christian’s stolen phone and wallet restricts him from dealing properly with the ensuing publicity nightmare, as well as with the people whom surround him.
From quips about carefully arranged mounds of rubble being accidentally swept up by cleaners, to a tug-of-war with a condom between Christian and Anne – a TV interviewer played delightfully by Elisabeth Moss – there is clearly a lot to take in with The Square. However, it is Terry Notary’s jaw-dropping scene that most successfully hones the film’s message – if there is one.
Notary plays Oleg – a chimpanzee-fixated performance artist whose piece shocks and disturbs a patrons’ dinner. His commitment to method-acting makes his performance spiral out of control; scratching and grunting at the patrons quickly escalates to a primitive enactment of a rape scene. The patrons’ cries of ‘help!’ echo the pleas of the homeless beggars that constantly loiter in the background of the film, whom serve as both props for Christian’s middle-age crisis and a source of exploitation for the museum’s PR firm.
The Square is not an easy film to watch, nor is it an easy film to classify. Is it a clawed swipe at the hypocrisy and superficiality of the art world? A devastating insight into the carnality of human nature? Is it even a reflection of our day-to-day lives? We see glimpses of a lone baby in a cradle in the museum’s office and snippets of Christopher Læssø’s character Michael headbanging to dubstep in a Tesla.
The Square feels like a sequence of strangely beautiful, but empty and unsatisfying, modern art installations – and maybe that’s the point.
Image: Curzon Artificial Eye