The Square


Writer/Director Ruben Östlund

At the center of The Square is the eponymously named modern art installation, a roughly four meter square outlined in white LED light strip on a cobblestone floor. Visitors entering the installation choose between two doors, one labeled “I Trust People”, and another labeled “I Do Not Trust People.” We only see what happens when someone enters the “trust” doorway – they are asked to leave their phone and wallet within a marked rectangle on the floor, then proceed on to the room containing The Square. Labeling the piece is an engraved plaque with these words, “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.”

That edict frames various interactions within the film, all centered around a Swedish modern art museum’s curator named Christian, played superbly by Claes Bang. Mr. Östlund ties various seemingly random scenes together as an examination of relational truth, political choice, and moral obligation. The film itself feels like an avant-garde modern art piece, at times startling, confusing, provoking and ultimately left to the viewer to make their own conclusions.

This is bold and engaging cinema, with the aesthetic often mirroring the emotional sense of confinement and tension which the characters feel. A driving modern soundtrack augments the visuals well. This is a challenging Must See.

Relatable Reviews

  • Bilge Ebiri in the Village Voice captures my sentiments well. “… The Square, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this past May, probably says more about the times we’re living in than any other film you’re likely to see this year. And yet the beauty of the movie is that everybody will have their own ideas about what, exactly, it is saying. It’s not a vague film, however. Östlund is specific and exacting as a writer and director, and within The Square’s empty spaces, we’re forced to confront our own values, and our own visions of ourselves.
  • A.O. Scott in the NY Times did not care for the film much, but writes insightfully. “… ostentatiously smart, maybe too much so for its own good, but ultimately complacent, craven and clueless”, and “The Square,” ragged and headlong, plays like a series of elaborately staged sketch-comedy routines. Or, closer to its own concerns, like an anthology of performance art pieces. Just about everything that happens to Christian has a conceptual dimension, an element of coy self-consciousness, that makes you wonder whether it’s just something that happened or a carefully planned and theorized happening.”
  • Owen Gleiberman in Variety also had issues with the film and an interesting perspective.