Psychological analysis of The Square 2017

If you haven't seen this movie yet please be aware there are a lot of spoilers in this analysis. I suggest you first see this movie and afterwards read this analysis. You will understand and appreciate it much better then.

The movie is largely about the life of a curator of a museum of modern art, Christian, who's task it is to find donors for the exhibitions and art pieces. It centers around a new piece of art, the Square, literally just a drawn square on stones. The text makes the Square so interesting: "The square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations". Normally it would be a very nice place to be in, but the movie shows astonishing and quite some shocking scenes with dark humour that depict our moral poverty. We are still a far way from the ideal of the Square. I would like to specify several noteworthy scenes, some now already iconic.

The most note-worthy scenes

On a superficial level Christian seems to lead a normal life, has a normal mature personality: he has a nice job, a Tesla, two daughters, and is divorced (quite common nowadays, especially in the affluent society Sweden).

The meeting about the promotional video

However, during a meeting it becomes clear just how superficial his life and the interaction between the other people is. Two younger guys from a marketing firm have to present their ideas about how to promote the "The Square exhibition". At their first attempt to present these ideas hardly everyone listens and they don't really talk to each other. You instantly get the feeling of wasting each other's time. The second meeting shows how these marketeers really do not have any moral code: they do just about anything to draw the attention of the modern day public ('going viral on YouTube is what counts'). Only a secretary has her doubts but dares not to express her doubts verbally. Tolerance gone too far. Christian is way too busy with his own problems to carefully look at the presented ideas and so this short promotion clip is published on YouTube. It gets the attention all right but most of it is negative and Christian has to resign. The promotion clip is way too controversial.

The condom fight scene

Christian's superficiality is shown in another scene in which he has sex with an interested american journalist Anne. It is hilarious as well, because the innocent bystander in the appartment of Anne is a....chimpanzee...sitting on a couch and seemingly writing some things down. The door of the bedroom is closed so the chimp can not be a witness of the sex scenes. There is no emotion involved whatsoever in these sex scenes, it is just plain sex. Luckily the focus is on the faces of the actors. The most interesting scene is the one in which Anne wants to throw away the (used) condom Christian holds in his hands. But he refuses to give it to her. Afraid she will use it perhaps to still get pregnant of him. She has raised this suspicion due to the way she asked him if he had come and the way she asks to get rid of his condom immediately after his orgasm. There is no emotion there. The fight over this condom is both hilarious and awkward to watch.

When Anne later confronts Christian with why he had sex with her, it becomes painfully clear there is indeed no feeling at all of him for her. The actual place in which she confronts him with this is adding to the awkwardness to this conversation between them. 

The ape man dinner scene

The best and most shocking scene of the whole movie, now already iconic, is the one in which an actor plays a monkey during a dinner for a lot of sponsors of the museum. A warning is issued that a 'wild animal' will enter the room, people are supposedly in a jungle, and one has to be very silent and not draw any attention so the animal might go away. This seems to work at first but this ape man is so convincingly threatening that it soons starts to get out of hand. He chases away one guest, but more interestingly, when the violence increases even Christian can not stop the performance actor in his act and everyone gets intimidated. Very telling is that all of the public are shocked and everyone regresses in fear, leaving their heads down hoping to not draw any attention from this 'wild animal'. 

However, it gets worse when the ape man starts to intimidate a beautiful woman at the dinner table. Touching her hair and finally trying to rape her. When touching her hair and face she starts shouting softly for help, even from her husband but no one acts...very awkward to watch. The scene is so out of the ordinary that everyone is shocked of this violence and no one dares to interfere. All ape like behaviour, our Neanderthaler brain has taken over our rationality. This comes back when the ape man crosses a line and tries to rape this poor woman. Only one man, an older man (!) starts to beat the ape man. Only then the bystander effect is broken and people start coming to help and beat the crap out of the ape man. It is a scene so intense that all the public in the theatre went dead silent as well. Where was our moral compass then? In this scene you can clearly see how violence can be tolerated if only it is put into a rationalized context.At first it is hilarious, then there is fear and compassion resides.Only someone who still has a strong moral code, typically an older man (NOT her husband of friend by the way), comes to rescue.

The stair scene with the young immigrant

When Christian is harassed by a young (Moroccon?) immigrant boy of probably 11-12 year old on his stairs in his fancy appartment, he clearly does not know what to do. This scene is especially awkward because he has his two daughters who are witness of his inadequate violent handling of this situation. Instead of deescalating the anger of this young boy. That has a lot to do with his so-called tolerance towards foreigners in which he really represents every modern day western civilized person. He clearly does not have his own moral compass but acts according to what other people would say. That is why he can not find the right thing to do with this young boy (who is way out of line and clearly not used to behave correctly) and makes the situation even worse in his outburst (he injures the boy). 

Tolerance gone too far, moral code gone astray

The Square symbolizes a place in which everyone is equal, has equal rights. However, no one seems to know what boundaries there are for behaviour in modern society. The movie shows beggars on the streets who misuse their illness just as immorally as the careless bystanders who do not care a damn about these beggars. By the looks of it, no one seems to know to do the right thing. That is the main reason why this movie is so nerve wrenching. No one seems to care, no one seems to know what is right or wrong. Of course, art can be thought provoking to shake things up. The Square as a movie does that just right. It shows very clearly how a very civilized affluent modern society like Sweden has lost it's moral code due to too much tolerance. There is no boundary anymore, there is no square representing a framework in which we all know what to do, what is normal, what is right or wrong.

But this Square is really simple to draw: be compassionate, have empathy for everyone but do not over do it. Whenever someone abuses this empathy like the young boy who is shouting and intimidating to get his rights, or like the ape man who is clearly out of line when he starts intimidating someone (no matter in which rationalized context), then it is time to defend the Square: the universal moral code in which NO one is forced to violence against his/her own will. Only then we can truly live in a Square: a safe haven where there is a place for everyone, no matter what skin colour, background or IQ one has.

The Square is a long streched movie, often very slow but probably done on purpose. It has to convey a very gloomy feeling of what has become of our very civilized society...with a moral compass clearly disfunctioning.

Not for everyone, but thought provoking and sometimes very hilarious, but often with dark humour.



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