The Square Pushes Boundaries

default article imageA lady stands at the center of a busy plaza filled with people rushing to work or to get lunch. She asks the people walking by, “Would you like to save a human life?” One man replies with, “I’m busy,” while another says, “Not now.” 

A man goes into a 7-11 for a sim card. A homeless woman in the corner of the store asks, “Could you spare some change?” The man says he only has credit card, but is willing to buy her something instead. The lady requests, “a chicken ciabatta sandwich with no onions.”

How much do we care about others and how far can it go? Palme d’Or winner The Square puts us in uncomfortable situations to explore these questions.

Christian, played by Claes Bang, is a curator at a Swedish museum of modern art. On his way to work, he attempts to help a lady in a “life threatening” situation.

In return, his wallet and phone are stolen. Christian tracks down his phone to an apartment complex and gets an idea with one of his employees. To get his wallet and phone back, Christian will stuff a note into each mailbox calling the person a thief and demanding his phone back. Meanwhile, a new exhibit is coming to the museum called The Square.

The description of the exhibit reads: “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” To promote the exhibit, a PR team uses an aggressive campaign to grab attention.

Swedish director, screenwriter, producer and editor Ruben Östlund throws us into satirical scenarios that questions our moral compass and the role of contemporary arts in society.

The scenarios Östlund presents pushes our boundaries and tests the extent of our values. For instance, there’s an artist holding a press conference at the museum.

During the interview, the artist is constantly interrupted by a person with Tourette syndrome. Should the person stay in the audience because they do not have control over their disorder? On the other hand, should the person be escorted out because he is interrupting the interview for everyone?

It’s a difficult choice for some, but it’s important to endure these challenges to see how committed we are to our own moral code.

Normally when we stand behind a cause, we may obviously do anything to support it. Well, let’s say you are behind putting trust into any person because you have faith in humanity. While walking down the street, a lady comes rushing up to you proclaiming someone is after her with the intent to kill.

As the lady cowers in your presence, another man comes to her defense and helps you out. Once her predator shows up to attack her, you and the other man confront the predator and shoo him away.

The predator leaves, the lady is happy, and you are shaking hands with the man who helped you in that situation. Although it felt satisfying to help another person out, a few minutes later you discover your wallet and cellphone are gone.

After realizing how manipulative others can be at the expense of losing two important items, would you still have trust in humanity? Would you help another person out in the future in a similar scenario, or would you continue walking on?

Östlund is clever in measuring our beliefs by not only putting reputation on the line, but personal items as well.

Just as difficult it would be for one of us to determine what we should do in the two previous examples, Christian finds himself in the same boat. Except Christian’s boat can sink quickly with his high position as museum curator.

Christian is a paradoxical figure who contradicts his standards. The curator promotes The Square exhibit, although he does not fully represent its message. Sure, he drives a Tesla car, supports the arts, and is friendly towards others, but when a beggar asks for money, Christian typically replies, “I only have a card.” This shows how the museum curator is a contradiction of the image he conveys.

Christian should go beyond the minimum of driving a fuel-efficient car by putting more effort into helping people on a personal level. Additionally, Östlund takes a swipe at Sweden for its over usage of credit cards with Christian’s theme of only having a card, no cash.

Considering Christian is the curator of a museum he represents the world of modern art.

The museum is filled with pretentious works, such as a room with ash piles reading in neon lights “we are all dust.”

Modern art is normally behind humanistic ideals, but The Square exhibit represents how out of touch the community is towards the less fortunate and their contradictions on trust. Millions of dollars are poured into modern art museums while the community assumes their ethics are in line. However, when they are forced to take a position, the group skulks into their pompous rooms filled with sanctimonious art pieces.

Museums have the unflattering reputation for being blasé to anyone outside the art world. There are plenty of people who find it boring to gaze at something they are told is important. In spite of this notion, there are plenty of controversial pieces at The Square to feast your eyes upon.

Ruben Östlund wishes for the audience to squirm in their seat or bury their face in hand to discover the limits of one’s principles. However, Östlund’s intentions are in the right place.

The director desires a society where we all help each other, rather than ignore the increasing issues of poverty and hunger we may witness daily.

Östlund encourages us to reflect upon how we can approve our efforts to create a society where each person is there to bring the other up. Through this experience, one will begin to think outside The Square.