If R. Estlund’s previous works were received more than favorably by both critics and viewers, the reaction to the director’s fifth full-length film can be characterized as ambiguous, and even the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival did not change anything. The commonplace of almost all the reviews was the statement that Estlund “bit off too big a piece”, that is, he touched on too many acute social topics in the film and failed to reveal everything with sufficient completeness. But in order to recognize this statement as true, one must first answer the question: what is “The Square” about?
Sociology or Psychology?
At first glance, the answer is obvious: Kvadrat makes fun of almost the phenomena that determine the character of modern Western society – from feminism to contemporary art, from political correctness to the disintegration of family and social ties. And if the emptiness of the same contemporary art is demonstrated very clearly, as they say, “head-on”, then the topic of alienation between people is revealed very subtly and convincingly. In the world in which Christian lives, no one hears anyone: everyone is fixated on himself and his problems, and therefore the conversations of the characters often resemble dialogues in the theater of the absurd (the communication between Christian and Anna is especially indicative in this regard). But still, “The Square” cannot be regarded as a film illustration of countless sociological studies on topical problems of the civilization of the “golden billion” – if only because
Not building illusions about contemporary society, Estlund is not inclined to idealize its inhabitants. Like every great artist, he is primarily interested in the inner world of a person, his psychology, and, in particular, such fundamental features as a tendency to aggression and the ratio of the rational and the irrational. And here we come closer to understanding the true meaning of the film.
What’s the point of the movie?
According to Estlund, aggression is an integral part of human nature: it can be suppressed, but not destroyed. In the most sophisticated and educated person, the ancient instincts of destruction, domination and defense of their territory are dormant, and in order to awaken them, grandiose events are by no means needed, the most insignificant ones are enough. However, in a super-well-fed and prosperous society, minor incidents like a stolen smartphone and grandfather’s cufflinks turn into Shakespeare’s drama. Instead of either reporting to the police, or hammering in, the main character of the film starts his own crusade against the alleged thieves, which spoils the life of himself and those around him. Christian, who saw both himself and the audience as the perfect embodiment of a “politically correct person”, rolled off this pedestal with a deafening noise, but not because he is so bad, but because
You can plant conflict-free behavior from a young age as the only correct behavior, and children will still fight. You can offer carefully thought out life strategies, and the person will be “carried” on a wave of emotions, and all his decisions will be irrational. You can preach the ideas of humanism, and users on the Internet will like a video with a sadistic scene. And therefore, Western society is entering the dead end in which all societies find themselves that demanded from people behavior unusual for them (here it is appropriate to recall the Soviet ideology of the 1920s and 1960s, which called for rejecting the material and focusing either on the world revolution or on building communism).
What is the meaning of the performance with the “ape man”?
The scene in the museum, when the actor depicting the savage orang-utan goes beyond the original program and tries to rape one of the banquet participants, is the essence of Estlund’s reflections on human nature. Some critics interpret the “orangutan” as a metaphorical depiction of the problem of migrants who were first called and then horrified at the result, but migrants are not in business here. The truth is that a heavily breathing “animal” lives in each of the polished gentlemen at the sparkling crystal and silver tables, how hard it would be for them to admit it. This is Gogol’s “Who are you laughing at? You are laughing at yourself! ”, And not the opposition of the civilized and the third world.
At the same time, Estlund’s laughter is not devoid of a taste of bitterness: after all, the second meaning of the scene is a warning about the danger of flirting with violence and aggression. Even in a carefully rehearsed form, such flirting is fraught with unpredictable consequences: it is much easier to release the genie, that is, the beast, from the bottle than to drive it back.
What is the meaning of the opening frames of the film?
There was a copper sculpture from the 18th or 19th century in front of the museum, but it is being dropped to create a modern installation. This scene is highly symbolic: modern society rejects the ideals of the past, modern “creators” throw the classics off the pedestal, and ordinary and faceless characters replace the true heroes, rulers or commanders on horseback.
What is the meaning of the image of an offended boy?
A child demanding an apology from Christian is a very interesting character who gradually grows from a semi-comedy image to a dramatic one. There is a great temptation to see in him the embodiment of Dostoevsky’s famous maxim about world harmony, not worth a child’s tears (and the fact that Estlund read Fyodor Mikhailovich is evidenced by the “speaking” surname of the performer who portrayed the monkey). In an ideal imaginary world, Christian is a champion of humanism; in a real world, he makes an innocent child suffer. And it is no coincidence that the director denies his hero the opportunity to apologize.
What is the meaning of the name?
Critics offer at least three interpretations of the film’s title. According to the first, it plays up the discrepancy between the idea of the installation of the same name and its implementation: instead of becoming a space of kindness and care, the square was used for an advertising campaign with an explosion of a child. The second interpretation is based on the name of the famous painting by Malevich and considers the square, inside which there is emptiness, to be a symbol of contemporary art. And, finally, the third interpretation proposes to move away from the problems of art: a square is the embodiment of rational, geometric correctness, verified social formulas that do not work, because it is impossible to calculate and sort out the human soul.
The installation with the “space of goodness” is not a director’s invention. A few years before the filming of the film, Östlund implemented a similar project in the central square of the Swedish city of Vernamu. Estlund hoped that the square would become a territory of mutual assistance, but the public preferred to use it in their own way: lovers began to make dates there, and political activists – to organize protests. By creatively reinterpreting this experience, Östlund made the installation one of the main symbols of the film.