Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Play (2011)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part III of V

“Be honest and tell Mum and Dad what happened.”

In just the opening scene, you can tell Ruben Östlund is helming this from the work of Michael Haneke. Play plays *not intended* some real-life Funny Games (1997) with not only the psychological infliction and torture its characters embark on, but the emotional and moral conflict it puts you as a viewer through, now presented via concrete plausibilities involving race however, and not Haneke’s guilt-tripping consumption of staged violence. One way or another, you’ll be triggered by it.

Between the pivotal characters awaits a glimpse into tribal mentality. The victims, for example, criticize their friend for trying to walk out of a frankly hostile situation, as if the gesture is impolite, selfish, or perhaps an ethical betrayal to both them and the robbers who they’ve developed Stockholm syndrome for. Clans will pressure collective suffering to suggest disbandment as the consequence of avoiding it. Then there are the sly robbers, on the other hand, one who even guilt-trips the white (and the token Asian) kids by telling them, “anybody dumb enough to show their phone to five black guys has only themselves to blame.” Fact of the matter: everybody here is indulging in racial stereotypes that have instituted this negative altercation whether ill-intended or not. Previously, two of the kids even beat up their friend for opting out of continuing the unusual robbing and discharge him from the group. It’s as if shame is not only brought upon people who do not believe in the “labels”, but also brought upon people who do not live up to their “labels”.

Occasionally, Play will also be in the company of white side characters who relish in the culture of foreigners but at the same time remote to hearing their struggles out. Funny how the poor in this are seen as material “thieves”, and the financially stable are pardoned for any other form of it. Low-income creates criminals, low-income selection is often a byproduct of racism, particular groups of color are then labeled, thus everybody begins to apply negative biases on races even if they’re directed at themselves. But then again, there are also the high-income whites who’ll try to compensate for it with liberal excess, and some low-income minorities are willing to take advantage of that, but subsequently the other high-income whites will REALLY take advantage of it as a method of gaining more control — having the gall to illegally harass a child physically is one thing, but there’s so much more to the idea in which the film proposes from this incident that’ll get audiences thinking.

Suffice it to say, it’s an infuriatingly anti-wing film that wants you to struggle siding. I’m sure it’s especially meant to challenge those in position of a clear wing nonetheless, but anyone on the political spectrum in general will probably face internal conflict enduring the material here regardless.

*at least as an American, I know for the majority of us it’s going to be DENIAL*

One thing is for certain nonetheless: the presentation of it all is f**king elaborate. On top of its feasible personas — this time though relying on primarily child actors —, Östlund has surpassed the frozen still shot with sparing transitional camera movements (sometimes ones that appear automated or Ken-Burns-esc to replicate a bystander POV) and lens focusing that reminded me of how much blocking can feel like a magic trick. Even amidst the manipulative ambition Play has, you can’t deny it executes such with an iron fist.

Verdict: B+

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“Play” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Published by

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s