RUNNING TIME: 142 Minutes.
DIRECTOR: Ruben Östlund
WRITTEN BY: Ruben Östlund
WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT: I got it on DVD from Netflix. It is also available to rent ($4.99) or buy ($14.99) on Amazon Video.
PLOT: A prestigious Stockholm museum's chief art curator finds himself in both professional and personal crisis as he attempts to set up a controversial new exhibit.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: The scene displayed in the most in North American promotional materials (posters/trailers) is the one in which a performance artist (Terry Notary) impersonates an ape during a fancy dinner party, accosting several of the guests.
However, the scene that stuck with me the most is the video promoting the eponymous work of art in which we see a sobbing girl holding a kitten get blown up by a bomb. Even though this is clearly staged to advertise an art exhibit I actually had to stop the DVD for a moment to pet one of my cats.
- The scene with Terry Notary (described above and portrayed in the film's poster) was inspired by the Russian artist Oleg Kulik who was invited to the international group exhibition "Interpol" at Färgfabriken, Stockholm. At the opening, Kulik impersonated a dog. He growled, jumped up, rolled and bit one of the guests. He said he acted as a representative of the browbeaten Russian people, who now bite back.
- In the beginning of the film, a young woman confronts Christian (Claes Bang) screaming that a man is going to kill her and begging for his help. A man runs up to them, there is a brief altercation and both the man and woman depart. A moment later Christian realizes his wallet and cell phone are missing. This scene was based on a real life incident. One of the director's friends was robbed a similar way.
If someone asked me, "What is The Square about?" I would honestly have trouble giving them a two sentence plot summary. In fact the plot I provided above is copied from IMDB (with a few edits to help the flow).
In a way The Square is more of a series of scenes with the same characters following a loose plot thread involving a controversial (but also not controversial enough) art exhibit. There is less of a central plot so much as three or four mini-plots accompanied by several scenes that don't feel entirely related.
These scenes and plot threads share similar themes involving art, class structure and how the wealthy treat the homeless. Nearly all of these scenes are very well acted, directed, filmed and scripted (at least the subtitles were well written). Several scenes would make fantastic short films on their own.
I have nothing against a film abandoning the basic story template. Not every movie needs the three-act structure or all the steps of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. That being said, when the end credits rolled, I was left feeling as though something was missing. The Square is better than countless other films that follow a clearly-defined plot, but at the end of the day the film felt more like a jumble of weird and unfortunate events that happened to occur on the same week.
But why is this a bad thing?
So one could argue that my sense of something being missing has a cultural base. Perhaps if I had grown up in a society where Die Hard and Star Wars were a jumble of events rather than a focused story, I would have felt different.
But there might be a deeper reason as well. Humans use stories to view the world, even for purposes that don't involve entertainment. If someone is rude to us at the grocery store, we come home and automatically share the experience in the form of a story. Like the typical movie, we will have a hero, a villain, a plot and possibly even themes ("Why are people jerks?") and subplots ("I never even found the right peanut butter.")
Once again, I'm not even certain this is necessarily a bad thing, but it did leave me with a sense that the movie was all subplot. To me, The Square was less of a single story and more like a bunch of stuff that happened to the same people. While this makes for a very unusual movie, I suppose one could argue it does create a work that is more similar to real life.