This is going to be one of the more difficult movies to review because I left the cinema not knowing exactly how I felt about the movie. The Square follows Christian, a suave art museum curator as he makes a series of bad decisions. And if you’re not used to watching artsy, independent films, it’ll take some time before you actually ease into the movie. This is the very definition of a Sundance thumb sucker.
Early on in the movie, we see Christian (Claes Bang) try to help a screaming girl who is being chased by a man. What struck me as interesting is the fact that the rest of the people around the area are not doing anything to help. Most just go about their business, while others stop and stare, eager to watch the drama unfold. This is a recurring theme in The Square. As it turns out, the screaming girl and the chasing man are con artists and Christian’s wallet gets stolen. Which begs the question: do people do nothing because they’re afraid, or are these things more prevalent in society because people do nothing?
The title of the film The Square refers to a new art installation in Christian’s museum. This square – it is a literal 4 metre by 4 metre square – is advertised as a sanctuary of trust and caring; within it, we all share equal rights and obligations. It may seem awfully silly that we need a designated space in which people can trust and care for each other, like smoking zones in restaurants. But is it really that silly, though? You’re sitting in a restaurant alone. How many of you would dare to leave your phone on the table and head to the toilet?
When explaining The Square to his daughters, Christian says, “back in the day, parents used to trust other adults to take care of their children. Now, we see them as threats.” Again, true. I remember back in the 90s when kids would play outside, all the time. We didn’t have cell phones and our parents didn’t feel the need to check up on us. If you’re playing in the field across your neighbour’s house, parents assumed (mostly correctly) that the adults in the neighbour’s house would keep an eye on their kids.
These days, it’s much different. I remember jogging (more like walking very slowly but convincing myself that it’s still exercise) across my neighbourhood one day and waved at one of the neighbourhood kids who was playing outside his house. Immediately the mom screamed at the kid and to come back inside the house. Gee calm down lady, your 10-year-old kid could probably kick my ass.
The Square also satirizes a bunch of other things like how people try to act smart by using jargons and complex sentence structures that ultimately make less sense than whatever I puke out after playing a horrible game of King’s Cup. But my favourite concept director Ruben Östlund brings up in his film, is the idea of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), also known as a wooden stick up content creators’ assses.
I used to write for a site that only churned out listicles. Top 10 this and Top 10 that. One day my editor contacts me and tells me that instead of writing Top 10 articles, I should start writing Top 15 articles because it’s more SEO friendly. So I asked my editor, what if there are only 10 proper points to make? He told me to “just vomit something out” even if it doesn’t make sense. For real, man?
We live in an age of stupid, where titles like this: “A man proposes to a flying imp with 74 Ferraris. You’ll never guess what happens next,” is considered great and titles like this: “35 reasons why a man who has a pink toothbrush is the one you should marry,” will get you a promotion. Look, I’m not against SEO. I use it too. But SEO should service the art, not the other way around. You shouldn’t create content for the purpose of getting views. Content should be created honestly and purposefully. Then, market the content the best you can and hope it gets you views.
The Square has some of the best actings I’ve seen all year. Claes Bang is excellent. His performance is both subdued and far out at the same time. There are moments in which he loses control and screams. Those moments are riveting and well earned. Ruben Östlund directs the shit out of this movie. Every frame is deliberate. There are scenes that will make you feel shell-shocked, there are scenes that will make you feel uncomfortable and awkward. The jokes are also extremely well written. To be honest, I don’t even know if there are any jokes in the movie. It’s just funny watching our society through a microscope on the big screen. We’re full of shit.
Despite saying nothing but positive things about the movie, The Square is probably not something I would watch again. The problem lies in its structure. The Square doesn’t feel like one story, but rather, a series of set pieces. It’s not poorly put together, but still plays like many different short stories centred around the same character. I wasn’t emotionally invested in this character’s journey because he has no journey. It’s the kinda movie where you can fall asleep various times throughout its slightly bloated 2 hours 22-minutes runtime and still fully comprehend what it’s about because what it’s about is repeated over and over and over again.
PS: Someone actually buzzed me the other day asking why all my reviews have been positive lately and if my boss has a gun to my head forcing me to only write positive stuff for the sake of having good PR. That is not the case. I’ve just been lucky enough to watch a bunch of good shit recently. But don’t worry, I will review Daddy’s Home 2 soon enough.
Despite saying nothing but positive things about the movie, “The Square” is simply not rewatchable.