The Square

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
The Square Movie Poster Image
Language, sex, violence in award-winning dark comedy.
  • R
  • 2017
  • 142 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

This dark comedy isn't really about conveying any moral/message -- it's more about satirizing certain comfortable, bourgeois attitudes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

You could argue that some of the characters' unwillingness to compromise is admirable. But you could also argue that they're self-absorbed and disconnected from reality.

Violence

Brief scene of on-screen violence; it's not bloody, but the lead-up to it is very intense, increasing its impact. In another scene, a child is knocked down stairs (not shown).

Sex

One graphic (though not explicit) sex scene with brief nudity (bare breasts). Much is made of a used condom afterward. 

Language

Strong language includes variants of "f--k," plus "c--k," etc. Many said by someone with Tourette's Syndrome.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking and smoking, including adults getting drunk at a fancy party and making iffy decisions. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Square is an intelligent, award-winning dark comedy about art, society, and crime, but it's not for kids. There's a sex scene with nudity (bare breasts), non-graphic but intense violence (with a big lead-up), and strong language ("f--k" and more). Plus, the movie's themes are complex and adult-oriented, and the characters (played by The Handmaid's Tale's Elisabeth Moss, among others) are uncompromising at best and self-absorbed at worst. Bottom line? Its overall intensity could disturb younger viewers. 

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What's the story?

In satirical dark comedy THE SQUARE, Christian (Claes Bang), a respected curator for a leading Swedish modern-art museum, enjoys a comfortable, self-assured existence. He seems completely at home navigating the sometimes-bizarre waters of the art scene, whether he's handling the press (including Anne, a reporter played by Elisabeth Moss) or exalted artists (Dominic West, Terry Notary). Christian seems to subscribe to all the most acceptable values of polite society. But when he becomes the victim of a crime, rather than take the logical steps most people might, he follows a different path -- perhaps one as removed from reality as some of the works he champions -- and sets off a series of events that force him to face real life.

Is it any good?

This cutting dark comedy could easily have been called The Bubble instead. Like writer/director Ruben Ostlund's earlier film, the multiple award-winning Force Majeure, The Square -- which has already won the Palme D'Or at Cannes and is Sweden's official entry for the 90th Academy Awards -- examines the difference between the values we say that we have and our actual actions when under pressure (or, put another way, what we believe about ourselves vs. what is true about ourselves). Perhaps Ostlund chose the world of modern art because its works can be low-hanging fruit, ripe for satire. Whatever the reason, the often-opaque rules and values of that setting make good fodder for a story in which the comfortable find themselves afflicted and people accustomed to the absurd must confront the real-world consequences of their actions. Though even that description is too concrete for The Square, which is hardly a morality play. Although some actions in the film are extraordinarily foolish, the garden-variety foolishness of other actions can be hard to separate out -- it's like the saying about the frog sitting in a pot of water that slowly gets hotter; by the time it notices it's boiling, it's too late. 

As powerful art curator Christian, Bang conveys a mix of good intentions and smug detachment. He's not exactly a bad person, but neither is he exactly good -- like most of us. He navigates the oddities of the modern-art scene with aplomb -- for example, when he has to interpret his own website's overly wordy text during an interview, or in his embrace of exhibits that might seem strange to some. He's totally confident in his world. But outside, his actions reveal selfishness and shortsightedness that bring him right down to Earth. West is comically underused (intentionally, perhaps) as a respected artist, Moss is strong as a journalist who tests Christian's boundaries, and movement master Notary plays an artist whose work tests everyone's boundaries. The film's humor generally comes from discomfort; it's no laugh-out-loud riot.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Square handles its scenes of sex and violence. How do they compare to what you've seen in other films? Do they have more or less impact?

  • Do you think you could call Christian a "good" or a "bad" person? Neither? Both? Why? Do you consider anyone in the film a role model?

  • What are some of the attitudes toward people in need that are on display in this film? Are they like the attitudes you're used to in movies and on TV? What about in real life?

Movie details

For kids who love offbeat movies

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