Movie Review – ‘The Square’

Directed by: Ruben Östlund

Starring: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, and Terry Notary

Plot: The curator of a contemporary art museum, on the verge of unveiling the museum’s newest piece, gets sidetracked while trying to retrieve his wallet


Ostlund’s previous work, Force Majeure, was a funny and biting satire about the frailty of masculinity, and that theme spills over when metropolitan pretty boy, Christian (Claes Bang), gets his wallet and phone stolen when he intervenes and acts tough with a feuding couple. Egged on by a male colleague, Christian tracks his phone to an apartment complex in a rougher neighborhood and leaves a threatening note in he mailbox of every apartment. It works. He gets his phone and wallet back, still with all the money, however, there are some unforeseen circumstances that continue to haunt him forcing him to constantly over-explain his own moral code in a cheap bid to retain some integrity.

Christian is a little different the usual “frail” masculine types. They are often meathead, unintelligent jocks who measure their self worth with how much weight they can bench. The only thing Christian really has in common with those types of people is how they overvalue the notches on their bedposts. Christian is intelligent, sophisticated, and fashionable. He sort of has to be as the face of a well-respected museum for contemporary art.  It requires a lot of work bordering on theatrics. Even the moments of befuddlement in his public speeches where he finally puts the note cards away and “speaks from the heart” is practiced in the mirror.

Ostlund likes to use two types of scenes. Either long contemplative moments where his characters just stew in the awareness of their own inadequacies or overly verbose info dumps that start out kind of funny, then become tedious, then become funny again in just how tedious they are. And since this movie is at least half about contemporary art, it is chock full of humorously tedious moments that go on for way to long, basking in the pretentiousness and poser intellectualism of stuffy art scenes. 

The art aspect culminates in a museum dinner event with a live show done by mo-cap performer and ape behaviorist, Terry Notary, somewhat famous now thanks to his work on the new Planet of the Apes franchise. He walks into the dinner, with no shirt, fake protruding teeth, and stilts for his arm so he can walk like an ape. He obsessively keeps character while antagonizing the guests, constantly crossing the line seeing how far he can go before anyone even thinks about taking action against.

Ostlund’s looks at our collective moral failings do not play with the highest of stakes, but that does not make them seem less profound. In a way, it makes it more intimate and slyly funny. The movies gnaw at you in  way your own regrets do and end up making you so uncomfortable you just have to laugh. 

Rating: 8/10