Movie Review: The Square

Director: Ruben Östlund
Writer: Ruben Östlund

Stars: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, Terry Notary, Christopher Læssø

Synopsis: A prestigious Stokholm Art Museum curator finds himself in a professional and personal crisis as he’s about to set up a controversial exhibit.

Review:

Christian (Claes Bang) is a curator of Stocholm’s most famous Contemporary Art Museum.  He is interviewed by Anne (Elisabeth Moss) and was asked about the meaning of the description of an art piece. He finds himself lost in explaining the concept. Anne accepts his answer but still puzzled of the statement she just heard.

Their initial chemistry has an air of awkwardness which progressed into weirdness. It’s not very clear at the beginning what Christian’s status is. If he was single, married, widowed or divorced. Christian’s character is revealed gradually that it really feels like knowing a person, you get even more curious the more you get to know him.

After the introduction of Christian’s lifestyle. The next scene shows Christian caught in a commotion on his way to work. After his meeting with his colleagues and a series of dialogues in the office, he noticed that his wallet and his phone was missing. Feeling defeated, he instantly remembered that his phone can be tracked, he went to check his computer to see where his phone is. He found it in an apartment block in a poor neighborhood and asks a colleague to help him find the pickpocket. They formulate a plan, but like most plans, sometimes it doesn’t go so smoothly.

The story progresses as Christian tries to balance his personal and professional life handling different issues with varying complexities.

Ruben Ostlund, the director of the film has a process where in he takes his actors into rehearsals and goes through the scene multiple times until he gets the most genuine reactions from his actors. It is remarkable to witness in the film. He is also the director of Force Majeure, which I also enjoyed except the ending. He redeemed himself in this movie.

The most nerve-wracking moment was the “Gorilla-man” scene performed by Terry Notary. Ruben asked art enthusiasts and sponsors of the movie to be part of it. They did several takes on the scene, but the final cut was so strong that it makes you think of how art enthusiasts behave. Usually people who frequent art museums and art events are the most open minded. It subtly asks,  “As an art enthusiast, how much can you tolerate?”

The curator has a responsibility in what art they bring in the museum as it inspires political and religious criticism which can promote controversy. There was a scene in the movie where Claes was faced with real reporters asking questions they would normally ask an art curator. He was clearly upset in the scene. In an interview with Los Angeles Times, he said he hated Ruben when they were shooting it. Despite the incident, he confirms he is still in good terms with the director and even mentions that this is probably one of the best projects he has ever made.

The Square is an art piece, it’s an open space with a border around it. Anyone who comes inside it will be sheltered and will be provided help when needed.

The concept of The Square was exemplified in different scenarios throughout Christian’s interactions with people around him. If you are a member of a society, how do you build trust? How do you offer help to someone in need? As someone who is in need of help, how do you take it? Will you return the favor or will you ask for more? The movie provides different angles around these questions.

The square left me speechless at the end, there’s many points in the movie that are meaningful, you’ll find it overwhelming. It lets you think deeply and question yourself, have I been behaving good enough or am I behaving like everybody else?