Sometimes, when I’m stuck on a particularly dismal table at a dinner party, I mentally Houdini from the conversation.
Physically, my body remains in the seat next to Marlene, the poodle-grooming enthusiast, but mentally, I am long gone. While I continue to nod and smile at twenty-second intervals to perpetuate the illusion that I am still captivated by the discussion at hand—the moral ambiguity surrounding canine hair dye—I recreate my ideal dinner party table in my head.
Unless they’ve done something uniquely annoying that week, my brothers are always there, along with a bunch of dear friends I miss from overseas. Then, there’s the usual mix of the dead and the living—lost relatives, buried idols, current obsessions, and Leonardo DiCaprio, circa ’96. As of this week, I have a new addition to the head of this hypothetical table, and his name is Ruben Östlund, director of The Square.
Why? Because The Square, a satirical take on the art world and the hypocrisy of the politically correct, is so clever it’s almost stupid. Every scene somehow one-ups the wit of the one preceding it, and its scathing commentary on our sense of entitlement vs. our readiness to help others in need is actually so searing it made my cheeks burn.
The film’s title comes from an art installation the museum is set to exhibit—a square of empty space that becomes a sanctuary of trust and caring once you step inside it. The premise is that inside the square, anyone seeking help must be helped. Hilariously, outside of the square, homeless beggars line the streets, and no one could care less.
The director of the prestigious (fictitious) art museum in Stockholm, Christian, is a handsome, suavely dressed man who is blissfully unaware of his both his privilege and his level of self-absorption. In the beginning of the film, he is robbed of his phone and wallet on his way to work. Over the ensuing two and a half hours, his life unravels as he tries to reclaim his possessions.
Honestly, there are so many noteworthy scenes and subtle digs in this film that I’d only be doing the film, and you, a disservice by trying to dissect them here. There’s the moment Christian’s Tesla is damaged leaving the car park of a housing commission block in a low-income area. There’s the scene where Christian, weighed down by designer shopping bags at the mall, asks a beggar to hold them for him while he tries to locate his two young daughters wandering the stores. And then, there is the film’s crowning moment, and one of the greatest scenes I have ever witnessed in a film: the human ape performance. All moments of cinematic brilliance; all better witnessed than recounted by my inept words. You really just have to see it to believe it. And once you do, you won’t be able to wipe the wry smile off your face for weeks. 10/10, already watched again.
The Square is out in cinemas now.