Ruben Ostlund's The Square, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this past May, probably says more about the times we're living in than any other film you're likely to see this year. And yet the beauty of the movie is that everybody will have their own ideas about what, exactly, it is saying. It's not vague, however. Ostlund is specific and exacting as a writer and director, and within The Square's empty spaces, we're forced to confront our own values, and our own visions of ourselves.
That idea is, in fact, what The Square is literally about. In a contemporary art museum in Sweden, chief curator Christian (Claes Bang) prepares to host a conceptual art project called "The Square," which is described as "a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations." One could look at this square -- an actual square carved into a courtyard -- and lament that the world has gotten to a point where such values can only be practiced as part of an art project.
The language describing the installation suggests that humanity's natural state tends toward equilibrium and fairness -- or that these can at least be achieved by a kind of quiet, willing consensus. When such thinking meets the real world, of course, chaos ensues, and through its somewhat loosely connected, often hilarious vignettes, Ostlund's film questions our understanding of honesty, trust and fellowship. Be it through a bizarre argument about what to do with a used condom or a craven approach to marketing "The Square" itself, the film's scenes suggest that our notions of integrity and community might be a lot more fragile than we think.