Written by Liam Hall
Do we laugh now?
What is art? To the same extent what are humans? Directed by Ruben Ostlund, The Square is a peculiar film that is definitely funny, but in its satirical humour lies a profoundly uncomfortable truth.
The film, which won the 2017 Palme d’Or, is spun out of an intricate web of misunderstandings and lies, that slowly builds into conflict and unreasonable accusations. Ostlund centres the film around Christian (played with a quiet charisma by Claes Bang) the curator of the ‘X-Royal’ art museum in Stockholm.
During a confrontation on the street with an aggressive stranger, Christian seemingly loses his phone and wallet, perhaps through theft as he assumes. After tracking down his phone via a GPS system, he decides to post a vague threat to every flat in the block that the phone is in.
It becomes obvious early on that Christian fosters high-concept beliefs when it comes to art. Due his reserved nature, however, he regularly struggles to communicate his ideas and thoughts. This is an aspect of his personality becomes the centrepiece for the film’s events and the difficult relationships between characters.
It is commonly noted the film was a critique of the modern art world, a common magnet for art criticism. This is telling when Christian complains to Anne (Elisabeth Moss) about people looking for meanings in art that has no intended meaning whatsoever; I don’t think, however, this is the limit of the film’s core idea. It is possible that this misinterpretation he talks about, equally applies to the miscommunication that people have with each other. People jump to wild conclusions about intentionality and place blame too quickly. There are many instances of this throughout the film whether it be Christian’s assumption of his possessions being stolen, getting a young boy in trouble with his family; or the media throwing hurtful, interrogative accusations at Christian about his personal views, despite him quietly admitting he didn’t approve the video.
The Square is by no means a tense film in the traditional sense, but the mass miscommunication evokes an uncomfortable atmosphere of unease. In many ways these moments can be genuinely amusing. At the same time however, the guilty pleasure we glean from them just makes the moments all the more unnerving.
This is what makes the eponymous square artwork all the more appealing to Christian. The artist’s statement for the piece reads: “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it, we all share equal rights and obligations.” It is this trust in people’s intentions that Christian yearns for. Unfortunately, if the actions of the film’s characters demonstrate anything; this is a wishful, Utopic belief that, in the end is unachievable due to the fallibility of human nature.