“The Square” is bold and conjures a perplexing emotion reaction, but I wouldn’t go so far to call it visionary or revolutionary in any sense. If anything, the Ruben Ostlund-directed movie acts as 21st century anthropologist and multi-media critic, a film so keenly aware of the weird, uber-wealthy times we live in, and the fragile egos who try to stand out in them.
Claes Bang stars as Christian, a prominent, well-to-do art curator in Sweden. He’s well respected by the cultural community but recklessly selfish and self-absorbed. We don’t even learn that he has children until halfway through the film, because all of his endeavors and energy have been poured into maintaining his deluxe reputation among the elite. While on the way to work, Christian has his phone and wallet stolen. He’s able to track down the culprit to a shady building on the outskirts of the city. He doesn’t know the specific unit in the building where his phone is being kept, so he stuffs letters with an aggressive threat into each of the mailboxes, demanding his phone back.
These events generate about half of the plot in the movie. The other is the opening of a new exhibition at his museum called The Square, and his staff’s desire to generate awareness of it through unconventional digital methods. Throughout his time at the museum, Christian gets to know a woman named Anne. Played by Elizabeth Moss, Anne and Christian become intimate, conceiving hilarious results in the process.
The film ruminates a lot on the thin line between civility and barbarism, how Anne cares for a seemingly-civil chimpanzee in her apartment, while Christian can’t control one of his banal, uber-muscular art subjects at a fancy dinner. It deftly interweaves its two plot lines so they collide when necessary while never fusing together entirely. And it’s also a deft study of the nature of human behavior and communication, how we’re reluctant to say what we mean, like the hesitancy Christian feels about telling Anne how he really feels. Or how we argue our words and their meaning have been misconstrued, like when Michael (Christopher Laesso) denies agreeing to stuff letters for Christian. Or when Dominic West’s character Julian is participating in an interview and can’t get across what he’s trying to say, while a man supposedly with tourette’s in the audience can’t control what he says at all.
It’s all intriguing and hilarious but a bit overlong, where everything could have come to its final conclusion 20 minutes earlier with just as much impact and significantly less boredom. But “The Square” is a trip, even when it stumbles. The phenomenal storytelling, character study and lush cinematography make up for the film’s weaker moments, cementing “The Square” as a captivating, well-rounded film.