In 2014 we in the west began to rave about a film by Ruben Ostlund, Force Majeure. It gave us a broken version of masculinity that stood against all the cinematic stereotypes you can muster in your mind and at the same time felt true to what we know of the world at large.
Now, three years later, we’re presented with The Square. The film focusses on Christian (Claes Bang) who is a curator/director of a modern art museum. He is our guide through the world of morally questionable scenarios with some estranged art to sit as the background to all going on.
Throughout the film we discuss ideas of community and our obligations to one another. Especially during the films title exhibition, The Square, which is to represent a safe place for all people to coexist with a simply understood contract — made akin to the way we view a crosswalk and how pedestrians and drivers treat each other. Though at the same time the actions of all the characters throughout the film stand in complete contrast to this very idea.
The Square utilizes not just it’s art to bring out the ridiculousness of our world ideas but also the people. We watch as Anne (Elisabeth Moss), a journalist, have a conversation about her romantic feelings towards Christian in front of a exhibit of a crazily stacked pile of chairs that’s accompanied by a sound effect of them crashing that constantly interrupts her attempts to discuss her feelings. We watch on as a man performing as a monkey in the jungle parades through a formal dinner and is allowed to be as aggressive as he desires in his performance with a society of people not standing is his way in fear of being the next prey of the monkey’s attention. We watch Julian (Dominic West) take part in a Q&A about his art to be constantly interrupted by an audience member who’s suffering from Tourette’s. These contrasting images and actions aren’t to stand in the way of our wishes to make spaces safe for all and to make all welcome but to highlight how we are failing to do so at times.
The film also takes a fine look at masculinity in the same ways that Force Majuere did. With Christian as the focal point we watch on as he is constantly tested and fails or defers to more passive methods of conflict resolution. Even in the moment when he chooses to act early on in the film when a woman seems to be in trouble and he is dragged into assisting another man in helping protect this endangered woman and he receives this testosterone fueled high from successfully performing these “manly” duties it’s undercut by the revelation that he’s just been robbed. We see so often these moments of a call to arms to do something and nobody will do anything directly. It shows us, men, women, people all as weak and failing ourselves as well as others in our unwillingness to act and make these spaces safe for anyone, even ourselves.