The Square

Jacob Richardson | 22/08/2017

Deeply affecting and a creative tour-de-force, The Square will not only have you alternating between belly laughs, the edge of your seat and sideways glances of utter confusion, it will leave you emotionally wrought with introspection as it effortlessly interweaves the plight of those less fortunate with our own.

The Square, directed by Ruben Ostlund and winner of the Palme D’Or at Cannes Film Festival, follows creative director of a Scandinavian Modern Art Museum, Christian (Clares Bang). In his privileged life, he’s facing a multitude of struggles. His gallery is trying to launch a new exhibit and get more funding, he’s trying to get his stolen wallet and phone back from a decrepit part of town, his kids are fighting and an American reporter he slept with is insisting on holding him to account. As he goes about trying to clean up these messes, ultimately causing his life to unravel more and more, he comes to great realisations about the state of society, and the place of community in a world so divided.


It is difficult to describe The Square, given that there are so many plot threads and no traditional structure. Instead, it is a real mood piece. The film doesn’t so much make an overt statement as it does create a feeling of discontent with the state of the world. Clares Bang gives a tremendous performance as the lead character; a man obsessed with his own image, who finds his barriers to the poor of the world broken down over the course of the 2 hour and 22 minute film. His performance is wonderfully understated, easily convincing us of the ups and downs of his moral compass.


There is some tremendous imagery as well, with pacing that makes the 142 minute picture go by in a flash. Ostlund holds one scene with a traumatic art performance from a man pretending to be an ape for an unbearably extended duration of impossible tension. It’s a masterclass in building suspense, and when it all comes to a violent head the juxtaposition of the fight is yet another way in which the film underscores its message.


The production design of the picture is also outstanding, helped along by its modern art gallery setting. Whether it is the underscoring of dramatic dialogue driven scenes by the artistic sound of chairs crashing to the ground, or the setting of a modern day rave in an adjacent royal palace, the film is characterised by juxtapositions. It’s in these juxtapositions that the real meaning is found; it is the simplicity of what one beggar wants compared to what another does, the placidity of the real ape with the brutalist nature of the fake, or Christian’s Tesla in a downtrodden neighbourhood (only ever damaged by Christian’s driver, despite the inevitable unease both the characters and the audience feel from its placement in this ‘dangerous’ neighbourhood). It’s a wonderful way to explore these themes of class and preconceptions, and is characteristic of a film that expertly subverts audience expectations to create something fresh and interesting. The Square isn’t concerned with rushing you into a conclusion or beating you over the head with a message. The Square is an expansive look at the life of the affluent, and how the experiences one of these elite had led to the realisation that while society is undeniably broken, community is fundamentally unable to be broken, and the common thread of humanity will bind everyone forever.


The Square is a triumph. An emotional and engaging cinematic experience that will leave you deep in thought for days afterwards.