"The Square" Is Not About Bruce Lee

But It Is About Art and Doing the Right Thing

I sat down for The Square at IFC Center last night thinking I was about to see a Bruce Lee movie. Instead, I saw a Swedish film about an art installation. 

Multiple times a week I have been passing the movie poster for The Square and each time, my peripheral glances interpreting the central image of a defiantly posed and bare-chested man with black pants as "martial arts figure." Having also heard something about a Bruce Lee movie being in theaters, my assumption is somewhat understandable. As it turned out, the character of the man featured in the poster was a performance artist and had zero connection to Kung Fu.

Movie poster guy, Oleg, is a key player in exploring the main theme: under what circumstances might a person be willing to offer aid to another? In one scene, attendees of a formal benefit dinner are subjected to Oleg's work, dressed in tuxedos and formal gowns, seated among crystal, china and starched tablecloths. An audio track announces the importance of not displaying fear for safety measures and some other ominous stuff; in comes Oleg, bare-chested, clad in those familiar black pants and moving about like a gorilla. Oleg's performance art is, in fact, driven by his very lifelike imitation of the gorilla - the sounds, the posturing, the behavior. After a series of progressively distressing interactions with several guests, he approaches a young and attractive woman. Jumping on top of the table, he then crouches over her as she cowers and attempts to protect her body. He touches her more and more and more, eventually dragging her out of a chair by the hair. He straddles her, dominates her with his own body. The woman screams for help the whole time. This scene was super uncomfortable for me - I felt held captive, forced to wait and watch, wondering all the while how far it would go. Was he going to rape her right there in front of everyone? Was everyone else just going to watch and let it happen? After a disturbing amount of time passes, finally an old man runs to her aid. He is eventually joined by other male patrons who then collectively beat Oleg into submission.

The title The Square is derived from an art installation, the statement of the work being "The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations." Over the course of its 2 hour and 31 minute run time, The Square explores voyeurism and indifference, demonstrating the reach and function of the social contract described in that statement of work. There are other scenes as intense as the Oleg's performance and then others much more subtle. Sometimes a scene is just endless commuter feet walking by multiple beggars living on the street. The mix of characters and situations mimic the daily human experience and reflect social constructs and behaviors. It was fascinating, sad and beautiful all at once - just like life. 

This film is thought-provoking, aesthetically meticulous and at times, laugh out loud funny. And never once does it fall victim to its philosophical and conceptual ideas - no easy feat considering the weight of the subject matter. See it for yourself and consider exactly how the concept of the square plays out in your own life - what do you do when someone asks for help and does it matter who or where the plea comes from?